Helicopter UH-1H 66-17132


Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1H tail number 66-17132
The Army purchased this helicopter 1267
Total flight hours at this point: 00001673
Date: 05/13/1970
Incident number: 700513261ACD Accident case number: 700513261 Total loss or fatality Accident
Unit: A/123 AVN 23 INF
The station for this helicopter was Chu Lai in South Vietnam
Number killed in accident = 9 . . Injured = 4 . . Passengers = 9
costing 410945
Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: Defense Intelligence Agency Helicopter Loss database. Army Aviation Safety Center database. Also: OPERA (Operations Report. )
Loss to Inventory

Crew Members:
AC 1LT CARGILE CLAUDE HARMON INJ
P WO1 WHITE DONALD RICHARD KIA
CE E5 JL HENDERSON
G PFC MARTINEZ LE ROY FELIX INJ

Passengers and/or other participants:
, PAX, D
, PAX, D
, PAX, D
, PAX, A
, PAX, A
, PAX, A
, PAX, A
, PAX, A
, PAX, A


Accident Summary:

 AIRCRAFT 132 WAS INVOLVED IN THE RELOCATION OF ARVN'S FROM ONE FIELD SITE TO ANOTHER. DUE TO THE PROXIMITY OF THE LZ AND PZ, THE AIRCRAFT WAS MAKING A LOW-LEVEL, DAISY-CHAIN, TYPE PATTERN WITH THE OTHER AIRCRAFT INVOLVED IN THE OPERATION. THE AIRCRAFT COMMANDER SAID IN HIS STATEMENT THAT THE AIRCRAFT HAD BEEN BLEEDING OFF A COUPLE HUNDRED RPM EACH TIME HE DEPARTED WITH A LOAD. THE AIRCRAFT COMMANDER HAD PREVIOUSLY MADE ELEVEN TAKE-OFFS AND ON EACH ONE HE HAD BLEED RPM. EACH TIME A HOVER CHECK HAD BEEN MADE AND IT WAS WITHIN ACCEPTABLE LIMITS; BUT THE AIRCRAFT WOULD LOSE RPM WHEN THEY MOVED THE CYCLIC FORWARD TO TAKEOFF. AT APPROXIMATELY 1515 HOURS THE AIRCRAFT COMMANDER PICKED-UP THE AIRCRAFT, COMPLETED A HOVER CHECK, AND ELECTED TO DEPART. AS THEY WERE DEPARTING, THE AIRCRAFT COMMANDER REALIZED HE WAS LOSING RPM. HOWEVER, SINCE THIS HAD HAPPENED EARLIER IN THE DAY, HE CONTINUED HIS MISSION. WO-1 WHITE TOLD 1LT CARGILE THAT HE WAS LOSING RPM RAPIDLY AND THE TORQUE WAS RISING. CARGILE SAID THAT HE WAS TRYING TO REDUCE THE TORQUE BY LOWERING THE COLLECTIVE. THE AIRCRAFT CONTINUED TO LOSE RPM UNTIL IT STRUCK THE GROUND IN A NOSE, HIGH RIGHT BANK. THE AIRCRAFT COMMANDER ATTEMPTED TO MAKE A RUNNING LANDING SINCE HE HAD FAIRLY GOOD AIRSPEED, 40 KNOTS; BUT ONLY 20 TO 30 FEET OF ALTITUDE. ON INITIAL CONTACT WITH THE GROUND THE NEEDLES WERE JOINED AT 4000 ENGINE RPM. THE SKIDS CONTACTED THE GROUND FIRST AND WERE RIPPED OFF THE AIRCRAFT. IT THEN WENT FOR APPROXIMATELY FIFTEEN METERS AND HIT AN EMBANKMENT WHICH ROLLED THE AIRCRAFT OVER ONE TIME. WHEN THE AIRCRAFT ROLLED OVER, THE CREWCHIEF WAS THROWN OUT OF THE AIRCRAFT. ALL OTHER PERSONNEL STAYED WITH THE AIRCRAFT TILL THE FINAL IMPACT. AFTER FIFTEEN METERS THE AIRCRAFT CAME TO REST, INVERTED, AND POINTING 45 DEGREES OFF THE CRASH PATH. DURING THE CRASH SEQUENCE THE AIRCRAFT CAUGHT ON FIRE AND COMPLETELY BURNED. FIRST INDICATIONS SEEMED TO POINT A DOWNWIND DEPARTURE BUT THE AREA HAD BEEN MARKED BY SMOKE AND THE PROPER APPROACH AND TAKE-OFF WERE UTILIZED FOR THE EXISTING WINDS. THUS THE FORECAST OF THE WINDS FROM THE REPORTING STATION DID NOT CONFORM TO THE SITUATION AT THE SITE OF THE ACCIDENT.\\


War Story:
I was the crew chief of this helicopter, not Specialist 5 J.L. Henderson. The night before my helicopter crashed, he came to me in my "hootch" and told me that I'd be flying on another helicopter the next day. I asked him what was wrong with mine; I assumed it would be going into the hangar for maintenance. He said nothing was wrong with my ship. I told him that I was the crew chief of this helicopter and that I had never ever heard of any crew chief being replaced on a helicopter. I wanted to know the reason I was being switched to another aircraft. Henderson didn't give me a reason. He said he was giving me a direct order to fly on another helicopter. I told him I was not going to be there the following morning at 5 a.m. when the ship was to take off. Again, Henderson gave me a direct order and once more I refused to follow it. I told him when my ship flies, I fly on it and when it's down, I'm down. I stated for the last time that I was not going to fly on another helicopter.

The next morning, an orderly room clerk woke me up and told me "the Old Man" wanted to see me. I had slept until about 9 a.m. the following morning after Spec. 5 Henderson had talked to me. I had never slept this late before unless I had pulled guard duty the night before. I reported to the Commanding Officer, a major whose name I don't recall. He asked me why I refused to fly and I gave him my reasons. I told him that I had never heard of a crew chief being assigned to fly on any helicopter but his own. I told the major that I knew some of the other crew chiefs took shortcuts when they did their "daily" on their ships but I never did. I always followed the TM (Technical Manual), step by step during all maintenance to my helicopter. I went on to explain that helicopters can literally fall out of the sky and I didn't feel comfortable flying on one when the maintenance was not top notch. My voice broke up a little when I spoke about helicopters crashing. I remembered many of the spots on the ground of the ghostly outlines of crashed helicopters I had flown over during the months I had been flying as a door gunner on UH-1 helicopters in South Vietnam. The Old Man said he'd think about what I had told him and make a decision later. He dismissed me and I left the Orderly Room to report to the Maintenance Hangar on the flight line.

I was on my way up the hill, to the Mess Hall for lunch, when I saw the C.O. and some other "Brass" coming down the hill. The C.O. had a worried look on his face. We exchanged glances as we passed each other on the path way. In the distance, down on the flight line, I could hear a ship's rotor blades winding up. I knew something big was going on but I didn't give it any more thought as I ate my lunch. I went back to the hangar and worked for the rest of the afternoon.

Sometime later, I think I was sitting around my hootch, probably listening to rock-and-roll music on my Japanese-made stereo system, one of my hootch mates came in and told me the sad news that my helicopter had crashed and burned. He said Mister White had been killed. I was in shock. I kept thinking about Mister White who was a dear friend. White was not like the other pilots; he hung out with us enlisted men and we all adored him.

Unlike the other pilots who lorded over us, we accepted Mister White as one of us and we'd do anything for him. We did our jobs because the pilots told us to do some trivial extra thing like wipe off some grease around a bearing and we reluctantly followed their orders -- but we willingly did the same thing for Mister White because he didn't nitpick our work. Mister Stone was the worse about nitpicking; he wore white gloves when he did his inspections.

I was still sitting on my bunk when Henderson came in. He was angry. He told me he had been thrown out of my ship when it crashed. He said his helmet hit the M-60 machine gun mount and it split. He was knocked unconscious. He said he was going to "kick my ass" if he found out I had sabotaged the helicopter. I was dumbfounded that anyone had even thought I had done anything to my ship. I was completely caught off guard by the accusation. My reaction to Henderson's suspicion slowly came upon me and later I wished I had fought the son-of-a-bitch but I was too slow in reacting to his cruel words. I was still grieving for Mister White and PFC Martinez that night and I wasn't thinking about myself then.

The next day, I was grounded and assigned to the "fuck-up" platoon. A black sergeant, a heck of a good man, and I went to all of the out-houses and burned crap. We drove a deuce-and-a-half truck with a fuel tank loaded with diesel fuel. Near the end of our work day, the nozzle came loose and sprayed me with diesel fuel. My sergeant told me to take off and he'd finish up. I had to rush to the shower and wash off because I was already breaking out in a rash. Later on, I was given the assignment of running the trash pickup which I did extremely well. I improved the trash pickup spots and got the job down to half the time which I used to my advantage by shopping for refurbished electronic goods at the PX. I made a small profit from the other guys in the company by selling them the stuff I bought which was not rationed.

Finally, after the accident investigation, my name was cleared and I was put back on flying status. I spent the rest of 1970 flying as a crew chief again. I feel the Army owes me an apology. I would never had done the thing I was accused of. I loved the guys I worked with like they were my brothers. I had the utmost respect for my pilots and I even wanted to be one. I asked to go to flight school but when the Commanding Officer told me I would have to "re-up" in the Army, I said no. Now, I wish I had done it. When you're 20-years-old, a year seems like a very long time.

I still mourn for my friend, Warrant Officer Donald Richard White. I even thought about naming my son in honor of Mister White but instead, I named my second child after my brother, Barrett, who died after only nine days. I can still see PFC LeRoy Martinez sitting on his bunk the first time we met. I thought I had plenty of time to get to know him but I was wrong. That's the only memory I have of Martinez. He died just two weeks after arriving at Company A, 123rd Aviation Battalion, 16th Combat Group, Americal Division in Chu Lai.

Most of the hundreds of photographs and slides I took of the guys in Company A were lost. I sorely miss the pictures. It was my only link to these guys. My memory has faded; the ones I can recall are vague in details. Mister White stands out from the rest of the brave pilots I served under. I still am in awe at their flying skills. I don't know how they did what they did do well. I used to look over their shoulders with concern as they "red lined" the torque gauge. I knew the reason they pushed my ship so hard to its limit. The Huey would lumber off and slowly gain air speed and altitude, meanwhile I was silently praying for my ship to make it. Regardless of what other people think, I know these guys were all heroes. They risked their lives to do their job of getting American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians out of dangerous situations. They did this without regard to their own safety, day in and day out.

In spite of the danger, I only refused to fly one time. I took it as a personal attack on my character and honor as a crew chief to ask me to fly on any helicopter other than my own. The only reason I can think of for Spec 5 Henderson asking to fly on another Huey was the time a colonel spotted three Viet Cong soldiers and ordered me to shoot them. We were flying at above 5,000 feet and I did not see them. The colonel had electronically-stabilized binoculars. He cussed me for missing the three "Gooks" and I got angry, too. I told him to order the pilots down to tree-top level and I'd get the VC. I figured the colonel didn't want me as part of his crew after that incident. I'll never know the reason the argument came up but if Henderson had given in to my demand then I would have been sitting where PFC Martinez was that terrible day. I broke tradition and flew on the right side of the aircraft instead of the left side like all other crew chiefs did. I wouldn't have been on the left side of the UH-1H like Spec 5 Henderson was.

I was proud to be a crew chief. I did the job to the best of my ability. I remember one incident where three "Grunts" laughed at me for polishing my Huey while I was waiting at an LZ (Land Zone). "Do you think you can make it fly faster," one of them yelled out as they walked away. I loved that helicopter like it was a sports car. I only regret not being "Gung Ho" as far as the Vietnam War is concerned. It looked like we were winning when I was there.

From: David S. Cockrill

This record was last updated on 08/30/2010


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