Helicopter UH-1H 66-16454

Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1H tail number 66-16454
The Army purchased this helicopter 0567
Date: 11/06/1969
Incident number: 69110700.KIA
Unit: D/1/10 CAV
South Vietnam
Casualties = 01 KIA . . Number killed in accident = 0 . . Injured = 0 . . Passengers = 0
The helicopter Continued Flight.
The aircraft was diverted prior to accomplishing any mission objectives.
costing 0
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: War Story as related by a witness. Also: Tim La Tour ()

Crew Members:

War Story:
Camp Enari near Pleiku, II Corps, November 6, 1969. 4th Aviation had the primary stand-by flare mission. My unit (D/1/10 Cav) had the secondary stand-by flare mission. I was AC, my pilot was CW2 Jim Snyder, my crew chief was Ed Skaggs, and Greg Rugenstein was my door gunner. We were scrambled in the wee hours of Nov 6, 1969 to help Fourth Aviation drop flares for LZ St. George, south of Pleiku. Just before dark we had pre-flighted the ship and loaded the flares. Although the wind was high, the tail rotor was not tied down at that time. But someone (perhaps 328's regular crew chief) had gone back out after dark and tied down the tail rotor.

Not knowing the tail rotor had been tied down, I tried cranking. And when it popped, I shut down. We quickly moved to the slick in the adjacent revetment (454) and moved the flares over. Then we took off for LZ St. George to relieve the 4th Aviation ship on station. After arriving, we dropped a couple of flares for Dustoff who came in for some wounded. While preparing for the next drop, the flare exploded into Greg's face and blew his helmet out the door. He dropped to the floor in a pool of blood, and the crew chief, Ed Skaggs, was knocked out temporarily. The flare fully deployed and ignited inside the ship. Ed came to in time to toss the burning flare out of the ship, but the parachute caught on the M60 gun mount. He cut the lines, and the flare fell away. I had to abandon the mission, but St. George had just requested darkness anyway. They had called for Spooky, and they didn't want any more flares until Spooky arrived. So with the lull in flare requests, the accident didn't affect the situation on the ground.

We took Greg to 71st Evac in Pleiku where the hospital personnel were waiting on the pad. They tried to save his life, but apparently they couldn't stop the bleeding and he died a few days later. Their heroic efforts to save him, and the severe psychological effect it had on one Army nurse, Lt. Lynda Van Devanter, became the subject of a section of her book, "Home Before Morning." She called him "Gene" in the book.

I reported that I had reached just under 40% N1 on the first ship (68-15328) before something popped, so the maintenance folks did their thing as far as making sure that ship was repaired. The ship we used for the flare mission (66-16454) was not damaged. The crew chief, Ed Skaggs, was not injured. He was stunned and immobile for maybe a half minute or so, but that's all. The flare mission was 66-16454, not 68-15328. As you see, the tail rotor tie-down part of the story is irrelevant to the events that caused Rugenstein's death. A few years ago I wrote up a complete description of this incident for my personal memoirs. A couple of years ago I asked Jim Snyder to read what I had written, and he told me that my description was the way he remembered it, too. I'll be seeing Ed Skaggs later this month for the first time in 40 years, and I will discuss it with him, also. I have also corresponded via email with one of the EM who was on duty in the 71st Evac ER that night we brought Greg in. He told me about the nature of Greg's injury and of the many units of blood (70+) they used trying to save his life. He confirmed that Van Devanter's "Gene" was actually Greg. Unfortunately, Lynda Van Devanter died several years ago. P.S. All our slicks, including 328 and 454, were destroyed in a sapper attack at Camp Radcliff, April 4, 1970. From: Tim La Tour Shamrock 61, D/1/10 Cav, RVN June 69 to June 70

This record was last updated on 04/18/2010

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Date posted on this site: 11/13/2023

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