Incident Date 19700325 HML-367 AH-1G 68-15213+ - HML-367 AH-1G 68-17045+ - Mid-air Collision
Sacharanski, Frank Eric 1stLT Pilot HML-367 MAG-16 1970-03-25 (vvm 12W:044)
Lakin, Roger Alan 1stLT Pilot HML-367 MAG-16 1970-03-25 (vvm 12W:043)
Justus, Michael Eugene 1stLT Co-Pilot HML-367 MAG-16 1970-03-25 (vvm 12W:043)
Gritz, Toby Richard 1stLT Co-Pilot HML-367 MAG-16 1970-03-25 (vvm 12W:042)
12W : 044 : Crew AH-1G 68-17045
Bob McKiernan (standing) and Mike Justus (sitting) filing sand bags. This was taken a few days before Mike was killed.
In the interest of accuracy I would like to correct the details of this accident. The birds were not leaving the airstrip fully loaded. They were returning from a successful mission and were doing a victory break over the field when they collided. Lt. Deane Swickard and I were watching them come in and witnessed the collision.Submitted by: Jim Wilkening, Sgt, HML-367, Eyewitness, 20030818
I was in the HML-167 hangar when I heard the crash. By the time I got outside all I saw was the burning wreckage near the tower, and very close to the hot re-fuel pits. It was later that day that I found out that Mike Justus was one of the pilots. I was in the same platoon with Mike in Basic School, and we became even closer in flight school. We were in the same flight, and were stick mates at Hunter AAF, GA.
Mike was a single, fun loving guy, always ready to help out anytime. When we flew together in flight school he was a much better pilot than me, and really helped me a lot in getting through instrument stage. We both went to HML-267 at Camp Pendleton after flight school. He left for Vietnam a few weeks before me, and when I got there he had been assigned to HML-367, the Cobra squadron, and I was assigned to HML-167 the UH-1E squadron. I miss him very much. Semper Fi!
I was on the beach just south of the Officer's Club and saw the crash. A flight of two cobras was inbound from the south. Just before the downwind numbers, the main rotor of the wingman hit the lead bird and the main rotor separated from the wingman’s bird in what look like one piece and dropped to the ground. Both started down nose first in a very smooth straight decent into or near the runway. Fireballs were immediate. Submitted by Frank Adams, friend and pilot
Comment on Incident:
I have though about this crash a lot over the years. I was surprised to find this site. I was a Marine corporal coming in from a CAP unit in the Hoi An area. I was traveling in a jeep and watched two cobras flying in formation maybe 700-800 feet up.
They were slightly staggered and the lead chopper banked to the left and the rear chopper flew straight into it. Both main rotors flew off and they immediately dropped nose first, side by side to the ground.
Myself and 3 other Marines were returning to the HML 367 avionics shop after chow and recognized that 2 cobras were coming towards us above the runway, maybe 100 feet at best.
We heard a loud bang and looked to see the trailing cobra had the tail boom removed by the lead aircraft. This caused the trailer to nose down and in doing so removed the tail boom of the lead aircraft. They momentarily hung in the air and then nosed in almost simultaneously. The reason I feel they were that low is that we could see the faces of the pilots as both aircraft were hit the ground. That vision of their faces will haunt me forever.
A small group were filling sandbags on the north end of the airstrip when the collision happened. We ran to the closest bird - it was over for the men inside. The fireball had dropped to nothing but smoldering fabric and little flames here and there.
A truck and trained crew arrived and chased us off (we were doing what we could with the hot spots). The man in charge mentioned the remaining ordnance that might start to cook off, that got us moving, fast. I keep the four names in my bedstand lest I ever forget.
I was a Sgt stationed at MAG Hdqtrs. I was delivering a message to one of the Squadrons. I heard helicopters close by and looked up just as the 2 Cobras collided. I immediately ran towards the crash site which was approximately 50 yards away from me. I could see the pilot in the front seat closest to me was moving. I looked for something that I could use to smash the canopy when fire engulfed both helicopters. The fire was extremely hot and I heard what I thought was ammo starting to cook off, so I had to rapidly retreat. I realized that several other Marines had also joined in the effort to remove the trapped pilots. It was an EXTREMELY violent collision between the aircraft and the ground!
Throughout the years since this horrible crash occurred, I still think about it and wish it had never happened! Semper Fi & God bless all the involved Marines and loved ones! MGySgt David R. Beers, (USMC, Retired, 1967-1990)
I arrived at Marble Mountain, HMM-364 in early 1970 and while on the flight line I watched two Huey Cobras leaving on a mission (loaded). A mishap resulted in the rotor blades of these two aircraft coming in contact with each other while still over the runway. Both aircraft crashed and rockets immediately exploded erasing any hope of survival for the 4 men. New at the time I didn't know what squadron they were from or anything about the men except that they were fellow Marines. Submitted by John MacDougald, HMM-364(70-71), eyewitness.Submitted by: John MacDougald, HMM-364(70-71), eyewitness., 20030818
The mid air happened at an altitude of approximately 600 ft AGL. The chase A/C was maneuvering to avoid the AF Jolly Green SH-3A inbound over the active runway at Marble Mountain. I was first on scene with two other Marines who's names escape me.
We watched as the trailing A/C burst into flames on impact; the resulting fuel trail between the A/C's acted as a conduit for the fire to jump to the lead A/C. We watched as 1stLt Toby Gritz tried to punch out the canopy/hatch before he died. We tried to break the canopy with our picks we had for a base detail that afternoon. The flames were intense and pushed us back, singeing our forearms, hands, head and face.
To say this was a lousy day is an understatement, Lt Gritz was my F/L unit OIC. I think and reflect back to what I could have done differently. Can't seem to forgive myself and the shame of not doing more. Semper Fi, Regards,
If this is the same incident, it happened early in 1970, and the two Cobras crashed between runways at MAG-16. I was sitting in an ambulance at the NSA Hospital, reading a stars and stripes newspaper. Over top of the newspaper I saw the two Cobras going north just over the runways. and I saw a third helicopter coming towards me, just above the cobras. What it looked like to me was that the rear Cobra pilot was trying to dive away from the helicopter above them. The rear Cobras nose went down, and when it did, it lurhed forward and the large blades of the Cobras struck each other and knocked both props off of both Cobras. They spiraled into the ground from about 700-800 feet altitude. I called for the keys and drove the ambulance over to crash site to see if anyone survived, but none did, so I helped exhume the bodies from the wreckage and took them back to the NSA Hospital. The frames of every one of the 5 shot aluminum framed Smith & Wesson snub nosed pistols that the crew members carried in a leg pocket was bent. They hit really hard!Submitted by: Steve Thoele, Navy Hospital Corpsman, observed the incident, 20101009