Helicopter UH-1D 66-16282

Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D tail number 66-16282
Date: 02/19/1968 MIA-POW file reference number: 1054
Incident number: 68021942.KIA
Unit: 57 AHC
UTM grid coordinates: YB665498 (To see this location on a map, go to https://legallandconverter.com/p50.html and search on Grid Reference 48PYB665498)
Casualties = 03 BNR, 01 DIN, 02 W . .
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. Also: 1054, SOG Vol III by Saal P:237+ , SOG by Plaster P:200+ ()
Summary: Shot down and crashed during Recon Team extraction. SSG Zabitosky won the Medal of Honor for rescuing the pilots.
Loss to Inventory

Crew Members:

Passengers and/or other participants:
SSG Zabitosky Fred W, AR, PX, WIA

REFNO Synopsis:
SYNOPSIS: Melvin Dye was the engineer and Robert Griffith the door gunner aboard a UH-1H helicopter performing an emergency extraction mission in Laos. They were extracting a reconnaissance patrol team consisting of three U.S. Army Special Forces personnel and three indigenous personnel. The aircraft carried a crew of four. Douglas Glover was one of the Special Forces personnel aboard. As the helicopter picked up the team four miles inside Laos west of Dak Sut, it received a heavy volume of small arms fire. It is not known whether the aircraft was hit by hostile fire or hit a tree, but it nosed over, impacted the ground and exploded, bursting into flames. The pilot, co-pilot WO Cook and one passenger Special Forces Sergeant Fred W. Zabitosky managed to leave the aircraft. Because of the fire and exploding small arms ammunition, rescue attempts for the others were futile. Cook died later in Japan from burns. Zabitosky was awarded the Medal of Honor. See Zabitosky's story in Vietnam magazine February 1996. There were six U.S. and three indigenous personnel aboard the helicopter. When search teams reached the site the same day, they could not account for the other U.S. personnel. Five were accounted for, but could not be recovered because of intense heat.

War Story:
Special Forces Staff Sergeant Fred W. Zabitosky was at the end of a normal six-month active mission cycle with FOB 2 based at Kontum. He was the One-Zero, team leader, of RT Maine but on this mission was helping SSG Glover become the new team leader, so 'Zab' was the One-One, assistant team leader. On 18 Feb., RT Maine was inserted into 'The Bra,' the river curve where Highway 110 split eastward from Highway 96, the Ho Chi Minh Trail's major north-south route. Their mission was to learn whether the NVA were pulling back, reinforcing or resupplying their Tet offensive activities in the Central Highlands.

Not long after their insertion, they made and broke contact. There were at least two other RTs active in this same area, so they had to wait their turn for airstrikes and worked their way back to the LZ. The NVA had set up 12.7mm guns around the LZ and the USAF Covey FAC could see at least four NVA companies converging on the LZ. The NVA launched two assaults on the nine-man team's position but were stopped by napalm, cannon fire, and the team's weapons. Covey had the team run 150 yards to an alternate LZ.

The first slick lifted out one SF and two Yards which left Zab, Glover and four Yards still on the ground. The NVA then struck in four successive waves which were all stopped but the team was almost out of ammo. It was now or never. The second slick went in as gunships and jets blasted the area. Both the NVA and Maine seemed to be racing for the helicopter. The door gunners and the SOG men were shooting like mad. Zab recalls that the NVA were so close that blood from one he shot splatted the Huey.

They were 75 feet up and almost clear of the LZ when an RPG blast rocked the Huey, spinning the tail boom into the main blades. Zab came to about 20 feet from the Huey and rolled clumsily on the ground to extinguish his burning clothes. The Huey had snapped in two just behind the pilots' section and burned furiously. The troop compartment lay on its side and Zab heard the final cries from the three Americans and four Yards in the burning wreckage.

Zab moved away from the wreckage then looked back to see the pilots still strapped in the burning nose section. He returned, opened the door and grabbed the semiconscious WO Cook and pulled him out. Everything was burned off the man except his leather gun belt.

The pilot was still inside. Zab could feel his flesh burning as he undid the pilotís harness. The fuel cells exploded in the other section and blew both Zab and the pilot clear.

Overhead SF medic Luke Nance had watched these events in horror but had seen Zab. The pilot made a couple of passes and confirmed there were survivors. This ship landed. Together Nance and Zab carried and dragged the two burned pilots to the Huey and they escaped.

SSG Fred Zabitosky received the Medal of Honor for his actions that saved the lives of two 57th AHC pilots. Sadly, WO Cook passed away ten days later in Japan due to burn related injuries.

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of three servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert S. Griffith, of Hapeville, Ga., will be buried on Oct. 23 in Fairburn, Ga. The group remains of the other two soldiers which could not be individually identified -- Army Staff Sgt. Melvin C. Dye, of Carleton, Mich., and Sgt. 1st Class Douglas J. Glover, of Cortland, N.Y., will be buried at a later date. The men were aboard a UH-1H Iroquois helicopter on Feb. 19, 1968, when it was shot down by enemy fire in Laos. They were involved in an attempt to extract a long-range reconnaissance patrol in the mountains of Attapu Province. Three other American service members survived the crash and were rescued, but three Vietnamese Montagnards did not survive.

Several hours after the crash, a team was dispatched to survey the location and reported seeing remains of at least five people. Enemy activity prevented remains recovery at that time. The following month a second team was sent to the crash site but found no remains.

In 1995, a joint U.S.-Lao Peopleís Democratic Republic team traveled to the recorded grid coordinates for the crash site but found no evidence of a helicopter crash. The team then surveyed a second location in the area where they found helicopter wreckage and human remains. In 2006, a follow-on team was not able to resurvey the same site due to severe overgrowth and time constraints. Another team excavated the location in late 2007 recovering human remains, wreckage and military-related equipment.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used dental x-rays in the identification of Griffithís remains.

Since late 1973, the remains of 938 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been accounted for and returned to their families with 1,708 service members still missing.

For additional information on the Defense Departmentís mission to account for missing Americans, call 703-699-1169 or visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo.

DISCLAIMER: Following personal recollection is based on memories (pleasant and unpleasant) of events that occurred almost 43 years ago. Please forward as you see fit to help educate those who know so little about the Vietnam War and the responsible soldiers who responded when called. Hugh

Story published below by the Department of Defense on 10 October 2010 concerns lost crewmen from the unit that I (then a Captain and unit maintenance officer) was honored to serve with in Kontum, Vietnam (my second Vietnam tour) during the 1967-1968 timeframe. I remember the faces of four crewmen well. They were a great crew and team; most dependable troops who took excellent care of their helicopter and each other. The best of a great generation that was given so little credit by an unappreciative people/nation and deceitful government.

Return of Vietnam War related remains is so very important to our veterans and the lost soldiers' families because it helps with closure of wounds related to the conflict.

The 300 or so men in this unit that normally had assigned 29 UH1H helicopters were among the finest and bravest that I saw during a 35 year active duty career. They lived in one of the most adverse and dangerous field environments and were occasionally subjected to 122mm Katusha Rocket attacks (similar to those rockets being deployed against the Israelis today) and other types of harassing ground attacks/fire. They were undeterred by the daily dangers they faced; worked hard, maintained safe aircraft and flew challenging missions. I learned something from them almost daily.

The aircraft/crew loss described below was the second loss (both attributed to combat action)after the unit arrived in Kontum (Central Highlands) in October 1967 after nine months of training at Fort Bragg, NC; however, it was the first to suffer crew losses. My recollection is that these very dangerous cross border missions were flown by the unit for six of the first 12 months the 57th was in country. Missions were highly classified since the US would not publicly acknowledge operating in Laos and Cambodia at the time.

As a matter of interest, I should point out that during the six weeks prior to the loss of this aircraft, our unit had lost many brave soldiers (six killed and over two dozen (?) wounded) and nine (?) aircraft due to two major ground attacks by North Vietnamese troops.

Per unit records, several other aircraft/crews were lost before the unit was deactivated or left country in mid-1972. If my memory serves me correctly, the 57th was close to the last Assault Helicopter Company to leave at the conclusion of direct combat by US forces. Believe, with the discovery of the two crewmen's remains, the unit now has only six lost crewmen whose remains have yet to be found (classified as body not returned).

Hope the story below shows you how remarkable the Vietnam era soldiers were in dealing with tough missions and maintaining their sanity at the time. Interesting details of many more of the Special Operations Group Missions conducted by SOG Central and flown by the 57th and other aviation units at the time can be found in two excellent paperback books by John Plaster; the one entitled "SOG" is the only title I can remember. These books are available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc.

May God richly bless all that served in our nations wars and the families that stood by their sides.

Hubert "Hugh" G. Smith
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
Retired (1997)

This record was last updated on 10/27/2010

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