Helicopter SH-3A 151538

Information on U.S. Navy helicopter SH-3A tail number 151538
Date: 07/19/1967 MIA-POW file reference number: 0768
Incident number: 67071910.KIA
Unit: HS-2
This was a Combat incident. This helicopter was LOSS TO INVENTORY
This was a Rescue and Recovery mission for Rescue of Persons
Unknown this helicopter was Unknown at 1000 feet and UNK knots.
Vietnam unspecified
UTM grid coordinates: WH814646 (To see this location on a map, go to https://legallandconverter.com/p50.html and search on Grid Reference 48QWH814646)
Count of hits was not possible because the helicopter burned or exploded.
causing a Fire.
Systems damaged were: PERSONNEL
The helicopter Crashed. Aircraft Destroyed.
Both mission and flight capability were terminated.
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: Defense Intelligence Agency Reference Notes. Defense Intelligence Agency Helicopter Loss database. Survivability/Vulnerability Information Analysis Center Helicopter database. Also: 0768, BRLH3, 70237, TWIX, KIA ()
Loss to Inventory

Crew Members:

REFNO Synopsis:
The USS ORISKANY was a World War II-era carrier on duty in Vietnam as early as 1964. On July 18, 1967, LCDR Richard D. Hartman's aircraft fell victim to anti-aircraft fire near Phu Ly in Nam Ha Province, North Vietnam. Hartman, from VA 164, ejected safely, but could not be rescued due to the hostile threat in the area. Others in the flight were in radio contact with him and resupplied him for about three days. He was on a karst hill in a difficult recovery area. Eventually the North Vietnamese moved in a lot of troops and AAA guns, making rescue almost impossible. One of the rescue helicopters attempting to recover LCDR Hartman on the 19th was a Sikorsky SH3A helicopter flown by Navy LT Dennis W. Peterson. The crew onboard the aircraft included ENS Donald P. Frye and AX2 William B. Jackson and AX2 Donald P. McGrane. While attempting to rescue LCDR Hartman, this aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing all onboard. The remains of all but the pilot, Peterson, were returned by the Vietnamese on October 14, 1982. Peterson remains missing. The decision was made to leave Hartman before more men were killed trying to rescue him. It was not an easy decision, and one squadron mate said, "To this day, I can remember his voice pleading, 'Please don't leave me.' We had to, and it was a heartbreaker." Hartman was captured and news returned home that he was in a POW camp. However, he was not released in 1973. The Vietnamese finally returned his remains on March 5, 1974. Hartman had died in captivity from unknown causes. Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources including "Alpha Strike Vietnam" by Jeffrey L. Levinson, personal interviews.

War Story:
This helicopter was from HC-2 Detachment aboard USS CONSTELLATION (CVA-64).

In 1967, HS-2 was involved in three days of intense fighting near Phy Ly, Vietnam. On 17 July, 1967, LT Neil Sparks and his crew successfully recovered a downed aviator, despite heavy damage to their aircraft. - The next day, during a second CSAR attempt for a different aviator, HS-2 crewman AC2 Chatterton was mortally wounded by enemy fire.

On the third day of combat, HS-2 aircrew LT Dennis Peterson, ENS Donald Frye, AX2 William Jackson and AX2 Donald McGrane attempted to rescue the last downed aviator. Unfortunately, these heroic crew members were killed by AAA fire from batteries brought in under the cover of darkness. The crew was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

As you probably know, HS-2 lost five of the six Navy helicopter men killed in action doing combat rescue during the Vietnam War, all in a brief and fateful period. I am inserting the narrative of that period for you below. Starting with Neal Sparks' and Marv Reynolds' Navy Cross rescue of Butch Verich and continuing immediately to the losses.

Phy Ly, North Vietnam would be the scene of triumph and tragedy in the next three days, beginning with July 16, 1967. Demetrio Verich,

Crusader pilot from VF-162 off USS Oriskany was part of the flak-suppression element attacking the rail yards at Phu Ly, 30 miles south of Hanoi, when the unsuppressed flak, in the form of three SA-2 SAMs, were fired at him. Butch Verich dodged two but the third got him and he found himself very quickly floating down just 16 miles from Hanoi watching a rain of Crusader parts precede him in descent. This was the second time Verich had been shot down, having been bagged August 18, 1966 and rescued that time by HC-1. This time, instead of being down at sea and rescued relatively quickly, he was 60 miles deep in hostile territory and no one came for him before night fell, although the XO of the Wild Aces, VA-152, Commander A.B. Headly, with his wingman, leaning out the big radial engines of their Skyraiders, remained overhead until dark.

Lieutenant Commander Marv Reynolds, VA-163, aware that O-boat had lost a plane, discovered it was Verich when he recovered back aboard, and immediately queried his commanding officer about the status of a rescue effort. None was being mounted: the admiral was hesitating because of darkness, the distance inland, and the proximity to Hanoi. Reynolds suggested to the skipper that they go to CAG and convince him to at least make a try, for the sake of morale. The Old Salt (VA-163) skipper agreed, CAG (CVW-16) agreed, and the admiral was convinced, and gave Reynolds the task of locating Verich, and authenticating him, before any rescue effort would be mustered up.

At 0300, Reynolds, his wingman, and an E-2 launched and headed for North Vietnam. He left his wingie feet wet with the E-2, along for comm relay and early warning of any hostile night fliers, while he proceeded solo to search the area. The sound of jet engine awakened Butch from a fitful sleep nestled in a small cave on a karst.

"Superheat 201, this is Old Salt 312...."

After several tries, Reynolds heard a reply:

"Is this Marv?" That took care of authentication.

Reynolds and Verich coordinated until Marv had a good location on him on the karst.

"Gotcha Butch back in half an hour." He passed the go word through the E-2 to the carrier, came out of North Vietnam hit the tanker, which had followed them in due course, and waited for sunrise and the rescue forces.

Next morning, HS-2 was assigned to attempt the rescue. Seeing the dense array of air defenses on the flat, heavily populated, river delta along the direct path between the coast and Verich's Karst, Lieutenant Neil Sparks, Jr. decided on an end-around. He would cross into North Vietnam further south where the heavily populated and heavily defended area was more narrow, go west to the mountains, and follow the mountains north, over unpopulated and rugged terrain to a point just west of Verich, then approach from the west out of the mountains crossing the short distance to his karst.

That part of the plan was good: he piloted his Big Mother inland, crossing the coast without taking fire - a rare change of pace and perhaps a harbinger of an easy rescue. They coasted in at Hon Ma Island, an easy landmark to assist in accurate navigation. It was unusual that the gunners at Hon Ma had not greeted them either.

No hostile fire challenged the trip along the mountains, escorted by a division of VA-152 A-1s.

Marv Reynolds transited direct in his A-4, evading three SAMs fired at him. On scene, he identified, attacked, and silenced a large caliber AAA site which would have endangered the rescue helicopter. When Big Mother approached, he talked them in to where Verich was waiting.

Lieutenant Commander Reynolds then made repeated, dangerously low passes over the pilot to ensure successful pickup.

Big Mother transited in to the pickup area without taking fire. Hovering in the area where Verich was hiding, the helicopter was suddenly subjected to intense fire. AX3 Teddy Ray and AD1 Al Masengale returned fire with their M-60s but could not entirely suppress the hostile fire. The Big Mother was hit repeatedly, with rounds striking all over the place. One of their two electrical generators, up on the back of the main transmission above the cabin, was destroyed, causing the loss of several pieces of non-essential mission avionics. No serious problem, unless the other generator was knocked out as well. Then they would be in for it with no electrical power except a short-lived battery, which might give them 15 minutes final power. A round coming through the cockpit instrument panel shattered one of their airspeed indicators. Although disconcerting to see an instrument explode in your face, the problem was minor in daylight.

A round through the hydraulics servo closet behind the pilot's seat knocked out the automatic stabilization equipment. Losing the ASE substantially increased the pilot workload to hold the aircraft steady and stable. Without ASE, the controls are now both sluggish, yet overly sensitive, and the aircraft is slow to respond to the control inputs, and at the same time, squirrelly.

A round in the nose electronics bay compartment destroyed the UHF radio. Without their radio, communications with RESCAP and with Verich was gone. Copilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Robin Springer, who had been doing the talking on the radio, considered his dead transmitter switch for a moment, and alertly pulled out his personal survival radio, the URT-10, and switched it on. Removing his helmet, he shouted his radio calls over the howl of two engines above his head and the roar of the rotors.

Gathering the final bit of information to locate Verich, they hovered over his spot and Al Masengale managed, through almost 20 minutes of unstable "hovering," to hoist him aboard. At last, Big Mother headed for the ocean and home. They left the local militia and their accurate gunfire behind and headed directly out of North Vietnam, not taking the circuitous ingress route, given their damage. Anticipating heavy hostile fire, the helo crew did not notice any further hostile fire. Credit Reynolds with some of that: he attacked and silenced an AA site which blocked the direct route to the sea.

As they went feet wet they had covered 200 miles and been over the Red River Delta of hostile North Vietnam for 2 hrs and 23 minutes, too much of it under fire.

Slumped in the seat of HS-2 Big Mother, Butch told Masengale and Ray: "Greatest day of my life. I owe you all my life, I'm really glad to see you boys."

After dropping Verich off aboard Oriskany, Sparks brought his helicopter back to Hornet and stood by while his squadron mates surveyed the damage and contemplated his good fortune. Among the airmen inspecting the damage were Lieutenants John Bender and Dennis Peterson, Lieutenant Junior Grade John Schloz, Ensign Donald Frye, AX2s David Chatterton and William B. Jackson, and AX3s Donald McGrane and Wayne Noah. Next morning Bender was taking Schloz, Chatterton, and Noah with him for duty at North SAR.

The next day, July 18, 1967, VA-164, an A-4 attack squadron from Oriskany, had finished striking a bridge near Hanoi and was off target when Lieutenant Commander Richard Hartman got hit. He struggled toward the water, but was forced to eject over Phu Ly. Encouraged by the success the day before, the other aircraft of VA-164 set up over Hartman, RESCAP and RESCORT were organized, and the Big Mother was called; John Bender and his crew. But VA-164 discovered what a hot spot Phu Ly was. AAA was thick over Phu Ly and to stay overhead was clearly becoming a dangerous game of probabilities.

In about twelve minutes, the Law of Averages caught up with another VA-164 A-4, this one piloted by Lieutenant Junior Grade Larrie Duthie. Duthie also turned for the water, and got as far as Nam Dinh, about halfway from Phu Ly to the Gulf. While closer to the water and safety, Nam Dinh was a major city in the populous Red River Delta, and was itself heavily defended with plenty of AAA, SAMs and troops. Bender pressed forward, monitoring a MiG tally and listening as the MiG closed to within ten miles, a little over a minute away, before the RESCAP could intercept. With two SARs going on concurrently, the Air Force was responding to the emergency. Crown was sorting out the cacophony and bringing in Sandys and Jollys. The Sandys were holding only long enough for MiG CAP to arrive on station, and the Jollys were held at the border of Vietnam awaiting clearance that was awaiting need. It looked like the Navy was going to get one of the two men.

Over the hot spot of Nam Dinh, the Law of Averages came calling again, this time, for Lieutenant Junior Grade Barry Wood, a third VA-164 Scooter pilot. Pulling out of a Zuni run, he noticed his fuel quantity unwinding like an altimeter in a dive-bombing attack. He quickly turned for the sea, and this one - one out of three - made it feet wet. He ejected about eight miles out and was fished out of the sea by USS Richard B. Anderson (DD-786), a SAR station destroyer. Navy RESCORT, VA-152 A-1s, callsign Locket, brought Bender's Big Mother in over Larrie Duthie's location, and Bender descended and commenced a visual search. That's when ground fire opened up from three sides. The ground fire was so close it was audible over the noise of the engines and rotors. Continuing, Bender's crew sighted billowing red smoke and entered a hover over Duthie. Buffeted by erratic air currents, Bender hovered for 12 minutes trying to stabilize the helicopter so Wayne Noah could get the hoist to Duthie. While this was ongoing, enemy ground fire was increasing in intensity, and Duthie was compelled to evade away from the converging enemy. At this point, the gunner, AX2 Chatterton, took an enemy round full in the chest. He was seriously wounded.

Suffering battle damage to the helicopter, and with Chatterton in critical condition, John Bender departed the hover and aborted the mission. He returned toward the nearest karst outcropping, and slipped behind it. Flitting from karst to karst, Bender skillfully worked his way towards the sea while using the karsts for protection. By now Sandy 1, Major Theodore Broncyzk, was on station and had taken charge. He directed one of the Locket A-1s to escort Big Mother to feet wet. Big Mother headed for the sea, a ship, and a doctor, but David Chatterton died enroute to the DLG at North SAR.

Broncyzk and his wingman, Captain Bill Carr, went after the guns that had hit Bender's helicopter. While the Sandys can hit one target per dive, the number of gun sites were many, and they riddled Sandy 1 and Sandy 2 while the Sandys whittled them down, but the planes held together and they stayed in the fight. Making a normal turn, Bronczyk found himself face to face with a MiG-17 that opened fire on him. Broncyzk and his wingie jettisoned their bombs, rockets, and fuel tanks, and began radical turns for evasion. Quickly, but not quickly enough as far as the Sandys were concerned, the tardy MiG CAP caught up and the MiGs fled.

With their rockets and fuel tanks jettisoned, and with the battle damage they had sustained, Sandys 1 and 2 were no longer combat assets and it was time to rotate them out. Captains Paul Sikorsky and Jimmy Kilbourne replaced Major Broncyzk and Captain Carr. Help was arriving to assist the Sandys in flak suppression, and Sikorsky directed Navy and Air Force planes in repeated attacks on the active gun positions until the level of ground fire seemed acceptable. Sandy 3 sent Locket to fetch Jolly 37, orbiting at 9,000 feet west of the scene, out of SAM range.

Major Glen York of Jolly 37 had little doubt that the slacking ground fire was only temporary. He dove to the deck while still miles from the rescue scene, but still had to brave 23mm and 37mm AA fire in the descent. Now at high speed and right down on the treetops, York felt relatively safe, but knew he would have to come to a hover for the pickup, and then they would really be hanging it out. Locket made a turn right over Larrie Duthie's location, and York hovered the Jolly at that spot over the forest tops. The entire crew could see plenty of muzzle flashes coming from an adjacent ridge about 100 yards away. The Sandys and Lockets were pounding it trying to knock out the enemy fire. Duthie came up on the radio and notified Jolly they had passed over him, and York hovered back toward him until First Lieutenant Billy Privatte, York's copilot, spotted him. The Jolly crew could hear the guns of the enemy soldiers and feel the impact of rounds smacking into their bird. They had little choice but to steadfastly hold the hover while Sergeant Theodore Zerbe ran the hoist down almost 250 feet to get the jungle penetrator to the ground. Duthie was on it in less than ten seconds, and Zerbe hoisted away. York could take it no longer, and lifted the HH-3E straight up to speed up the ascent of Duthie through the trees so they could clear out. Zerbe meanwhile kept the hoist control in the fast up position and cursed its slowness. They escaped the area thanks to the repeated attacks of the Navy and Air Force SPADs, the skill of the Jolly crew at their functions, and a bit of better luck than David Chatterton had had that day.

There was still the matter of Richard Hartman, the first pilot shot down. He was still down there somewhere up near Phu Ly. Next morning, the CSAR task forces went back for him. The North Vietnamese were waiting.

In the pre-dawn of the next morning, July 19, 1967, having seen the battle damage to Neil Sparks' helicopter two days before, and having seen the return of John Bender's helicopter with David Chatterton dead in the cabin the day before, Lieutenant Dennis Peterson took his crew on a carefully planned night penetration of the just-yesterday-updated coastal defense band, beginning a 125-mile circuitous route designed to avoid known AAA and SAM positions. It was a one hundred twenty five mile-track to make 50 miles as the crow flies. Lieutenant Commander Richard Hartman had been last seen late yesterday. The plan was to arrive in the search area at dawn. The early bird gets the. rescue. The intel appeared to be good, and the night flight paid off, for the penetration and transit were without opposition. SPADs were also up early looking for radio communications to confirm that Hartman was still at large near the Red River Delta town of Phu Ly. They quickly established radio comms with Hartman.

It was going well. Peterson called for smoke when Hartman heard them, and he obliged. Still no shots fired. The crew didn't see the smoke and overshot the survivor. Coming around, the Big Mother turned out over a valley and flew right over a 37mm gun battery. The battery did not open fire until the helicopter was right on top. Then a crossfire from all around tore into the helicopter, which immediately went out of control, crashing in a spectacular fireball as the aircraft exploded on impact. Just like that, Lieutenant Dennis Peterson, Ensign Donald Frye, AX2 William Jackson and AX2 Donald McGrane were gone. Following this tragedy, the mission to rescue Richard Hartman was called off. It had cost the United States, five men killed, two A-4s shot down, and one SH-3A shot down. Hartman evaded for three days in one of the most well-populated and open regions of North Vietnam, being supplied by air during that time. He was finally captured and did not emerge from the North Vietnamese prison system at the end of the war. It could not be determined if he was killed at the time of his capture or whether he died in captivity.

HS-2 had suffered its second aircraft lost in combat, and had had five men killed in action. Only two combat losses, but a disastrous cruise nevertheless. Since the non-combat loss of the bird with all hands on May 23 - the fourth loss of the cruise at the time it happened - another had been lost to a ditching while hovering over a destroyer in Manila Bay June 20, a second had ditched and sunk July 8, and a third would be ditched and would sink on August 20. None of these three non-combat ditchings would end the life of any crewmen, like the mysterious terrible all hands non-combat loss, but the final toll would be eight helicopters lost, 13 men killed; a disastrous cruise no matter how you look at it. HS-2 combat action tapered off after this action, but the Clementines of HC-1 kept up the rescue banner during a busy August.

Primary source: "Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue" from Zenith Press by George Galdorisi and Tom Phillips

This record was last updated on 04/15/2020

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