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The First Ejection and Rescue  -  January 12th, 1969

by

Capt. Gary L. Bain USMC (Ret.)

There I was, a long time ago, in a land far away, and it was a dark and stormy night!! The date was January 12th, 1969 and I was just off the coast of South Vietnam, over the South China Sea . I was level at 4,000 feet and securely strapped in my Marine Corps F-4 Phantom, as was my RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), Lt. William C. Ryan. I had flown well over a hundred combat missions with VMFA-323 and on this particular night we were attempting to get rid of our ten 500 pound bombs that had malfunctioned and wouldn't come off while conducting a Steel Tiger mission in Laos. Those missions were secret at the time and were designed to interdict and destroy men and equipment transporting weapons of war along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After diverting to the jettison area out over the water I hit the pickle button to drop the bombs and when I did the instrument panel started lighting up like a Christmas tree. It is theorized that one of the bombs hung up on the aft lug and drove the fins through the underbelly of the aircraft and into the fuel lines causing an immediate and catastrophic fire. First the starboard engine overheat light came on, then a fire light. Almost immediately the port overheat  light and fire light came on. I stated rather emphatically to Bill, " Bill, we're going to have to get out of here!!". I then started to make my "Mayday" call and only got one Mayday uttered when an explosion rocked the ill-fated Phantom. I hardly got the word "EJECT" out of my mouth and Bill was gone in  a flurry of noise and smoke as the canopy was blown off and his ejection seat rockets fired. I followed shortly thereafter and we both found ourselves floating slowly down into a dark void, punctuated only by the violent impact the pilotless Phantom made as the sea swallowed it's flaming mass. 

The sudden departure from the sanctity of the cockpit to hanging in a parachute, especially at night, is, to say the least, a humiliating as well as a frightening experience. That feeling was short-lived though as I soon splashed down and survival became the motivating factor. I had never been in an ocean at night and as I popped back to the surface, bioluminescence engulfed me and that was something I had never seen or even heard of!! In my imagination, the harmless plankton that was causing the phenomenon, was some alien creature that was attempting to devour me. That caused me to try even harder to gain the security of the life raft I had deployed on the way down, and the harder I tried the more I churned the water and the more the plankton illuminated. I probably set a record getting into the life raft because as I pulled myself up, the seat pan, which was still attached to me started hitting me in the leg and all I could think of was, "Sharks!!". Gaining the security of the raft, I soon got my composure back and somehow, Bill and I found each other in that great expanse of water and rejoiced at our reunion and well being. We started laughing, blowing our whistles and even discussed doing a little night fishing!!

A really heads up air traffic controller out of DaNang heard my one "Mayday" and alerted the Jolly Greens at DaNang, the 37th ARRS. The Jolly Greens are an Air Force rescue team with the primary mission of rescuing downed pilots and the 37th was flying HH3E's at the time. The rescue is best told by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald W. Moore ( Captain at the time ). The following is an excerpt from a recent e-mail I received from him.

My playmate that evening, (Jolly 28) aborted his first helicopter due to an APU problem, ....he changed aircraft and therefore was delayed in arrival in your area.  He was supposed to make your pickup, (he was "Primary"), but since he was delayed in takeoff, I made your pickup.  It was a little sporty that evening in the rescue area, with about a 9,000 foot overcast, 4,000ft undercast (we came out to your pickup area between layers at around 6,000ft)   and when we got to your location and let down we hit broken clouds between 600 and 900 feet...thank God and Siskorski Helicopters for the radar altimeter on the H-3s.   Basket Ball was lighting up the area pretty good with flares, but until we got below the 600ft mark, the flares did not help much.  Basketball said he would give more flares when I called for them and as soon as I saw your strobe, I asked for more flares and the sky really lit up.  My concern then was for one of the flares....(they were all over the sky).... coming down through the rotor blade system and causing problems, but that did not happen. We made your pickup with a water landing (the H-3 is also a boat as you know) and I steered the refueling probe right into your raft....maybe you remember me telling you on your survival radio to "Stay in Your Raft".......which is not what they taught you at the Clark survival school.  On water pickups with the helicopter in a hover, you should get out of your raft, as taught at Clark, but at DaNang, we considered it safer on water landing pickups, for the survivor to remain in the raft.......which you and your GIB( Guy In Backseat) did and I put the air refueling probe right into your raft as I recall and you hand walked down the refueling probe to the door of the helo and the PJ and FE pulled both of you into the cabin.  We had less than a minute on the water.  At least that is the way I remember it. On our trip back to Chu Lai after the pickup we had electrical fumes in the cabin. The smoke/fumes were reported to me by the Flight Engineer and so we shut off both generators and the battery to stop the electrical smoke problem.  After popping some select circuit breakers, I turned on the battery and told my Playmate, who by this time had joined up somewhere on my right side, that we had an electrical problem and that I would join on him and that he was to make all radio calls to Chu Lai and I would follow him in for landing with all my electrical systems off, which we did.  He mentioned later that as he was flying formation with me on my right on the return to Chu Lai, all of a sudden I was no longer there...   (all exterior lights went out when I turned  the generators off and the battery off to stop the electrical smoke problem).......and it was very dark with the overcast....he did a wild peel off to the right to get away from me since he lost visual contact and did not know where I was.  After I came back on the radio with battery power only, and told him what had happened with the fumes, I joined on him and we continued on to Chu Lai with no more problems. After landing, and dropping you and your GIB off, I pulled more select circuit breakers and turned the generators and battery back on and had no more fumes, so we returned to DaNang with me tied on to Jolly 28.   Maintenance told me the next day that the electrical smoke problem was the result of a blower motor shorting out due to salt water getting into the motor......salt water from YOUR FLIGHT SUIT I might add  (just kidding)......since the blower motor is directly below the cabin floor where you and your GIB were sitting after the pickup.   That blower motor shorting was a new problem, but to my knowledge, it never happened again on water pickups....maybe maintenance sealed the floor boards a little better after this pickup showed the deficiency.

Continued on 2nd Ejection

 

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