Helicopter UH-1H 67-17734


Information on U.S. Army helicopter UH-1H tail number 67-17734
The Army purchased this helicopter 0868
Total flight hours at this point: 00000982
Date: 06/18/1970
Incident number: 700618321ACD Accident case number: 700618321 Total loss or fatality Accident
Unit: B/2/17 CAV
The station for this helicopter was Camp Eagle in South Vietnam
Number killed in accident = 7 . . Injured = 3 . . Passengers = 6
costing 492145
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, Gary Hurelle (Operations Report. )
Summary: While returning troops from D/2/17th Cav to base, crashed making a mock gun run on a farmer.
Loss to Inventory and Helicopter was not recovered

Crew Members:
AC CW2 CHAVEZ RAFAEL ALBERT KIA
P W1 GW HURELLE
CE SP4 HOLMGREN ROY JAY KIA
G PVT SCRUGGS JAMES ARTHUR KIA

Passengers and/or other participants:
DE NS, , PX, KIA
DU LC, , PX, KIA
E4 A PIERCE, PAX, D
E5 RC MCDERMOTT, PAX, C
SSG NEAL ARTHUR DARNELL, AR, PX, KIA
SP4 ARCHER DANNY LEE, AR, PX, KIA


Accident Summary:

On 18 June 1970 at 0600 hours aircraft 67-17734 along with six other UH-1H aircraft belonging to the 2/17th Cav departed Camp Eagle with approximately 40 members of D Troop 2/17th Cav on board and headed for Quang Tri. The aircraft shut down at Quang Tri but remained on a stand-by status along with the D Troop personnel. At 1315 hours the ships were informed that the mission had been postponed and that they were to return the members of D Troop back to Camp Eagle. The ships started up and CW2 Chavez took up the flight lead in aircraft 67-17734. The seven ships departed Quang Tri in a trail formation. Mr. Chavez called WO1 Dooley, who had been designated flight leader, and told him that he and the other B Troop ship would break formation and follow the other five ships back to Camp Eagle allowing enough spacing so that all seven ships would not have to off-load their troops at the same time. WO1 Dooley agreed and led the other five ships back to Eagle as the two B Troop ships broke left from the formation and headed toward the coast to fly along the beach. CW2 Chavez was leading the flight of two aircraft, followed by CW2 Moriarity, the AC of the second ship. CW2 Moriarity called CW2 Chavez and told him he was going down and check some smoke that he saw on the ground. CW2 Chavez replied that he would 'cover' him. CW2 Moriarity's ship dropped down to low level and circled the smoke where a Vietnamese farmer was burning some grass. A game then developed between the two ships as Moriarity called Chavez and told him he had a 'dink in the open.' A smoke grenade was thrown from his ship and Mr. Chavez called and said he was 'rolling in.' The two ships continued to circle the farmer, throwing smoke and making gun runs. After circling the farmer twice, CW2 Moriarity started to depart the area, Mr. Chavez was just 'rolling in' for another gun run. CW2 Chavez called CW2 Moriarity and told him that he was 'a little too steep'. WO1 Hurelle, who was the pilot of aircraft 67-17734 said that he had locked his shoulder harness when they started making gun runs. He said that right away he and CW2 Chavez knew that the gun run was too steep. CW2 Chavez tried to recover from the gun run by pulling back on the cyclic, it is not known for sure if he added any power at this time or not. The ship flared but the descent continued, Mr. Chavez did start adding additional power to recover at this time. The aircraft struck the ground tail low. The stinger struck in a nearby area and did little to prevent one of the tail rotor blades from striking a small dike. The aircraft began coming apart as it went sliding across the rough terrain. The aircraft hit nose low on a mound of dirt, breaking off the left skid, landing light, and plexiglass from the chin-bubble. At this point the tail boom separated from the aircraft, as it did the main rotor head and blades were also separated from the aircraft. The aircraft then began to tumble and caught fire. The engine separated from the body and was thrown approximately 40 feet further on than the main wreckage of the transmission, radio compartment, seats and cargo compartment. The main wreckage was totally destroyed by fire.


War Story:
I had only been in-country a few weeks. I believe I had logged less than 100 flying hours. I remember three or four night missions. I remember flying with Mr. Chavez at least once prior to this day when he was about 10 feet over a rice paddy doing well over 60 knots. I didn't like flying that way. I also remember that he was getting very short. [His KIA record states that his tour started 07/16/69.] Like most inexperienced Huey pilots, my job was to learn from the AC and to watch the instrument panel. We were just north of Hue about a mile or two. I remember the other ship going down to the deck to check out the smoke and dink. I saw Mr. Chavez talking on another frequency and recalling thinking we were 'a little too steep.' I said to myself, 'well - fix it' and told him that I'd watch the instruments. I remember looking out once and noting that we were still going down in a steep descent. The last thing I remember was looking at the instrument panel and having the recollection of hitting the ground. I came too still in my seat with a strong 'will to live' impression on my mind. While initially I didn't realize I was still in my seat, I could tell my clothes were on fire. Later I would estimate that my seat was about 50 yards to the right and rear of the cargo compartment that composed the main part of the wreckage. One of my hands didn't work. I must have released my harness and stood up still on fire. I noticed a near-by bomb crater that contained some water. I remember thinking that when someone's clothes are on fire, they weren't supposed to run but I did anyway and just dove into the water. I still had my chicken plate on. When I realized this I remember thinking 'Oh, no, now I'm going to drown!' The water wasn't that deep and I successfully climbed up to the edge of the crater thinking how relieved I was that the flares were out. I had a bad cut over my right eye and remember the skin on my right arm looked like what you see on a cooked ham. But at that time I really didn't think I was hurt all that bad. The other aircraft landed. I noticed that stuff was scattered all around the area. No one was walking around. Rounds were starting to cook-off. I remember thinking that I needed to 'stay low' as I moved toward the cargo compartment to see if I could help anyone. I came upon this one man who was almost unconscious. He had also been burned. Not much further along there was a second man that obviously had a badly broken leg. After I had help loading the second man on the Huey, someone said to me - Hey, you'd better get on this ship. I looked at myself and realized how badly my clothes were burned and saw how terrible the 'ham skin' looked. So I got on the Huey. We were flown to Da Nang and then I was moved to a hospital ship for ten days to two weeks. I was in Japan for about two or three weeks and at Ft. Sam Huston for two and a half months. I was stationed at Ft Knox for another two or three months before I was able to return to flight status. I was released from active duty in April 1971. I moved to Wisconsin and have worked for the National Park Service for 30 years. Submitted to the VHPA by Gary Hurelle in February 2002.

Hurrell's description of events that afternoon is accurate. CW2 Chavez and I were "screwing around," killing time, until the other five slicks in our formation off-loaded their troops at the Delta Troop, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, landing strip. Their landing pad could only accommodate five Hueys at one time. Since we were in a flight of seven, Chavez and I broke off to kill time until we could land at the Delta Troop pad. I was flying around and harassing a Vietnamese farmer from a very low altitude, perhaps only twenty-five feet AGL. He was tending some small fire, or picking up hay in an open field. I was climbing back up to altitude, leaving the Vietnamese farmer somewhat amazed at our activity around him. I was anticipating that we had killed enough time, and that Chavez and I would be heading back to Camp Eagle to discharge our passengers. Suddenly, over intercom, my crew chief said, "He's crashed, sir." I looked out of my side window on the co-pilot's side of the Huey, and I saw an orange fireball, and a large area where the dry scrub grass was buring. Chavez had indeed crashed. I fully remember seeing Hurrell climb out of a water-filled bomb crater. I had imagined for the past forty years that he was thrown clear of the crash, and he wound up in the water-filled crater by sheer good fortune. According to Hurrell's account, he elected to jump into the crater because he was on fire. His choice to dive into the water is something which I did not know. I never saw Hurrell again, and I DEROSSED from RVN about one month later in July 1970. What I am about to write now is very difficult for me. These statements will be a form of venting for me. I don't feel that anyone, other than yourself, need know this information. But I'll leave that decision up to you. My personal opinions and insight into this helicopter accident may be of value to someone, somewhere, at sometime. CW2 Chavez was a graduate of the AMOC School, and his assignment to Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, was supposed to be in some supervisory capacity with aircraft maintenance. However, Ralph wanted to fly combat assault. Some how, I don't remember, he got a taste of flying CA, and he liked it. Eventually, he transitioned into flying "slicks" with our troop. However, he was not ready to be made an aircraft commander, which happened rather quickly after departing his maintenance assignment. That A/C rating for Ralph Chavez, to command and fly a Huey in combat, was entirely rushed beyond a safe level. I recall another helicopter accident involving Ralph Chavez from somewhere around March of 1970. Our troop was flying a combat assault into the A Shau Valley. CW2 Chavez was flying directly in front of my helicopter. We were in in a five ship formation, flying single file. I witnessed CW2 Chavez allow his Huey to get too close to the Huey which was directly in front of him. Chavez's main rotor chopped the tail rotor from the aircraft in front of him. The aircraft with the destroyed tail rotor was only about six feet from landing, and the pilot managed to put the helicopter down on the floor of the A Shau Valley, without seriously injuring anybody. As I recall, some of the troops onboard the damaged bird were thrown to the ground, because the helicopter had begun to yaw from the loss of anti-torque. Those one or two troopers complained of back injuries, as I remember. But I believe that they all remained on duty with Troop B, and none of them was hospitalized. I cite this example of Chavez's inexperience to underline my contention that he was in no way ready to be an aircraft commander. It is also my personal belief that Ralph Chavez got a form of "target fixation" during that final, fatal dive in his Huey toward the Vietnamese farmer, and the red smoke grenade on the ground, thrown from my helicopter, by my order. Gun pilots often talked about the need to keep from being "fixated" when attacking a target. I have lived with a feeling of shared responsibility and sadness for this deadly helicopter accident in June of 1970, and those feelings never leave me. I remember watching some of Chavez's injured passengers being loaded into my helicopter. The skin was hanging off of some of the soldiers to the point where it looked like strips of rubber. The Kit Carson scout, also a victim of the accident, was loaded into my helicpter. He had his scalp ripped off, and the white bone of his skull was fully exposed. I would give anything to change the events of that day. But the tragedy of that accident is locked in time forever. The accident has and will always haunt me. Also, a myth has developed about Chavez's time remaining on his tour of duty in Vietnam. I've read it with regard to Hurrel's account of this accident, and I've heard the same myth at VHPA reunions. Chavez was not on his last mission before going home. He had at least another five months to go before he DEROSSED. Because he had attended AMOC School, Ralph did not join Troop B until after I'd been in country for about six months. Chavez either came to Troop B as a CW2, or he was promoted to that rank soon after his arrival. He had more time to serve in-country before he could go home. Thanks for allowing me to vent. CW2 Chavez does not stand alone for the cause of this dreadful loss of life. I fully admit my own involvement. Ed Moriarty, Class 69-15.

This record was last updated on 02/25/2010


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Date posted on this site: 09/23/2017


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