Incident Date 19700111 HMM-263 CH-46D BuNo 153401+ - Mechanical failure on lift off - Crashed and Burned - ALFA damage
James, Michael Ray Cpl Gunner HMM-263 MABS-16/ MAG-16/1stMAW 1970-01-11 (vvm 14W:026)
AAR Mission #10 - 11 Jan 1970
11 Jan 1970
Mission #10 IR7 ROK Marines
Pilot: 1/Lt William M Kempffer
Copilot: 1/Lt Richard H Kunkel Jr
Crew Chief: LCpl J G Young
Gunner: Cpl Michael R James
7 US PAX
178 ROK PAX
20 sorties/1 task
/s/ RHK for WMK
1stMAW Command Chronology - JAN 1970
2. CH-46D, lost power on take-off:
INJURY: 5 "A" [KIA], 7 "B" [WIA major], 7 "F" [WIA minor], 10 NONE
Aircraft commenced take-off from LZ and experienced loss of power. Rotor RPM decayed and pilot lowered collective. The aft rotor blades contacted a concrete telephone pole, shearing it off. The aircraft struck the ground, broke in two sections. The right fuel cell ruptured and fire engulfed the aft section of the aircraft.
CAUSE: Material failure/malfunction
Command Chronology HMM-263 - Jan 1970
11 January 1970 (C)
HMM-263 flew 141 sorties for 36.3 flight hours lifting 10.4 tons of cargo and carrying 181 troop/passengers. Four medevac missions were flown evacuating 2 emergency medevacs and 6 priority casualties. One fire incident was reported with negative hits. There were 3 WIA's and 1 KIA this day.
Myself and a few others were selected as Guards to go to the CH-46 Crash Site that was the incident that claimed Cpl Michael Ray JAMES, USMC, KIA 11 Jan 1970. We arrived at the Site and this was my first exposure to seeing Combat Death In Country. It was my first experience with the Death of someone I knew in my Squadron. As I had sat just across from Mike at Chow that very morning.
I could tell that seeing Mike and the other KIA, in what was left of the Bird, that some of the ROKs had fallen on top of Mike on the starboard side of the Bird, right next to his .50 Cal. It looks like perhaps the ROKs rendered Mike unconscious and they were consumed by the fire. His body was mostly under some of the ROKs.
We were told by other Marines that saw the crash; it seemed like the Bird was struggling to take off and hit something and crashed and burned. But they said that it didn’t start to catch fire for a few minutes after hitting the deck; thereby getting some of the PAXs and Crew out in time. Unfortunately some of the ROKs were hurt or unconscious and landed on top of Mike, and they couldn’t reach him before the fire was too intense.
Command Chronology HMM-263 - Jan 1970
3. CASUALTIES FOR THE PERIOD
JAMES, M. R. CPL 2485220 USMC KIA 11 JAN 1970
YOUNG, J. G. LCPL 2422845 USMC WIA 11 JAN 1970
KEMPFFER, W. M. 1STLT 0104442 USMC WIA 11 JAN 1970
KUNKLE, R. H. 1STLT 0101646 USMC WIA 11 JAN 1970
JAMES was killed when CH-46A BuNo 153401 crashed on take-off
from the III MAF helipad at Camp Haskins, Red Beach, approx 7 KM NW of
Danang city. Attached document lists the sources I found/used.
There is an oddity, though. The VHPA lists four incidents for 153401 -
19, 20, and 25 Aug 69 (if memory serves) as well as the "loss to
inventory" incident on 11 Jan 70. The Naval Aviation Safety Center
listing of USMC acft incidents 1963-73 does show the three Aug 69
incidents but does not list an 11 Jan 70 incident for 153401. 153401's
reporting custodian in Aug 69 was HMM-263.
Unfortunately the 1st MAW Jan 70 CmdChron does not say much other than a
CH-46 crashed on T/O from the III MAF helo pad, and the HMM-263, MABS-16,
and MAG-16 CmdChrons say nothing at all about the loss. However, the 1st
MAW Feb 70 CmdChron does include a listing of the January incidents and
there's only one CH-46 incident with fatalities - a power loss and take-
off followed by a rotor strike on a concrete telephone pole and a
catastrophic crash. The summary says there were 5 fatalities, 7 serious
injuries, 7 minor injuries, and 10 no-injuries - 29 people in all.
There are no other known CH-46 fatal accidents in Jan 79, just 153401 - so
it follows that JAMES was killed in the crash described in the 1st MAW
CmdChrons. As to the other 4 fatalities - I have checked all other known
US helo deaths between 11 and 31 Jan 70; all 41 are accounted for. I must
suppose they were not US nationals.
CPL M R JAMES was a crew member of the HMM-263 CH-46 flying as a GUNNER on Mission #10 on 11Jan1970. He is listed as KIA in the Jan 1970 CommChron for HMM-263 and MABS-16, on the same day, so I would assume he had been flying as a gunner with HMM-263, even though assigned to MABS-16. Last landing for Mission #10 registered as 1330 (?). AAR data incomplete on last sortie with a passenger load of 25 AND location scratched out. There is a possibility that there were 25 ROK Marines on board the helicopter when it crashed (see 1st MAW Comm Chron for Jan 1970).
James was KIA; the remaining crew of 3 was wounded (WIA). The wounded were the same individuals that served as his crew earlier in the day at the beginning of the mission - Pilot 1/Lt W M Kempffer, CoPilot 1/Lt R H Kunkel Jr, Crew Chief LCpl J G Young and Gunner Cpl M R James. The mishap indicated after their initial return to their base - Marble Mountain Air Facility - total of 4.3 hours of flying for the ROK Marines, with James functioning as the gunner on the bird. Acording to the 1st MAW CC for 11 Jan 1970, there was a crash on the III MAF HELICOPTER PAD. The aircraft burned after the crash.
Although we (HMM-263) deployed 12-69 to Vietnam, as Crew Chiefs we had to serve 1st month as Gunners until checked off as combat ready, (Combat Certified) so we (new in country) were not yet flying missions. I did not personally know Michael James since our squadron had just been moved to Marble Mountain. We were at our hooch when someone came and said report to unit to go guard a downed aircraft. I recall being so scared when we were called to report to flight line with weapons & ammo to guard this downed AC, thinking it could be in the jungle & not knowing that it was in a secure LZ until we arrived.
Yes, as my friend Dennis Malone stated, this was our first combat mission, face to face with the smell of death! You will always remember your 1st! This was 45 years ago (as of now) & just last month when talking to my sister, I told her about this very day, my 1st mission & how scared I was. Then today from a Google search for (HMM-263 1970) I found this story, told my wife "this was my first mission" & saw picture of Dennis in front of our Marble Mountain Flight Line! "Gopher Broke" I'm not sure who else was guarding with us this day (6 of us I think) but I believe (Tex) was there, that's James Allen, (VA)? - who I have been hunting for & cannot locate. Have not talked to Dennis (CA)? - in over 15 yrs. I am now in (FL) contact 3864906356 please.