Surviving a Helicopter Crash in Vietnam, by USMC Gunnery Sergeant Paul Moore, Retired

Surviving a Helicopter Crash in Vietnam, by USMC Gunnery Sergeant Paul Moore, Retired

USMC H34s (militaryphotos.net)

From an interview with Peter Alan Lloyd 

I had one particularly close call was when I was flying an H-34 to determine some control problems. I had a VNAF Capt as co-pilot and we were observing a flight of Army HU-1s on a mission on a mountain.

Another H34 crash, at Quang Tri, 1967 which I investigated (© Paul Moore)

Another H34 crash, at Quang Tri, 1967 which I investigated (© Paul Moore)

I auto-rotated down the mountain side and when I added power and pulled up the collective to recover from the auto rotation, the helicopter began a rapid spin and loss of fore and aft cyclic control. (Later I discovered that the tail pylon had sheared resulting in an extreme out of balance fore and aft).

I followed the known emergency actions which I was very familiar with, since I also taught them, as we dropped approximately 1,500 feet, including auto rotation prior to the flare at about 500 ft when the tail pylon failed and the spin began. We hit nose down because of loss of fore and aft control, then I applied full left cyclic to wind up the Main rotor blades, as they struck the ground.

These procedures were:

1. Reduced the hand throttle to idle to stop or reduce the spinning,

2. Turn off the battery switch,

3. Turn off the magneto switch,

These actions were to help prevent a fire when crashing.

The actual crash site (© Paul Moore)

Then I had to stop the main rotors before they came through the cockpit.  I did that by full left cyclic so the main blades would strike the ground, and stop their travel before they could hit the cockpit.

I was on the bottom left side of the helicopter, and the VNAF Captain disappeared out through the right side window, leaving me with my left leg trapped.

An H-34 helicopter made a crash landing at the Don Talon ARVN outpost. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and had to be destroyed.(David Hugel)

An H-34 helicopter made a crash landing at the Don Talon ARVN outpost. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and had to be destroyed. (David Hugel)

I finally got out on my own, and had several banged-up areas and some bleeding. Then I saw the Captain standing in the flooding Av Fuel, firing finger flares in the air. I quickly got that under control, and then he wanted to start walking towards Nha Trang, which was several miles away.

I told him “Good luck with any possible VC and the land mines around the perimeter of the area there.” I decided to stay with the wreckage, and he also wisely decided to remain.

Iconic Photo: A U.S. crewman runs from a crashed CH-21 Shawnee troop helicopter near the village of Ca Mau in the southern tip of South Vietnam, Dec. 11, 1962. Two helicopters crashed during a government raid on the Viet Cong-infiltrated area. Both helicopters were destroyed to keep them out of enemy hands. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

Iconic Vietnam helicopter crash Photo: A U.S. crewman runs from a crashed CH-21 Shawnee troop helicopter near the village of Ca Mau in the southern tip of South Vietnam, Dec. 11, 1962. Two helicopters crashed during a government raid on the Viet Cong-infiltrated area. Both helicopters were destroyed to keep them out of enemy hands. (AP/Horst Faas)

We were without a radio, the one in the chopper being unusable, but luckily, after about twenty minutes, the Army HU-1s flew over and I then I safely fired some finger flares.

The army helicopters suspected a possible VC trap and circled around us for a while, then finally one came down and saw who we were – although the door gunner had us covered, just in case…

Recovering another H34 (engine failure) in the notorious Michelin Rubber Plantation below Bien Hoa, 1966.  (© Paul Moore)

Recovering another H34 (engine failure) in the notorious Michelin Rubber Plantation below Bien Hoa, 1966. (© Paul Moore) 

I left Vietnam in July 1968. I flew out on Pan Am with two hand guns in my brief case. I still have the 9mm 15 round Browning and the holster etc. that they had issued me. And more memories than I can place here, many of which visit me each night!

Another photo of the H-34 helicopter which made a crash landing at the Don Talon ARVN outpost. The helicopter was damaged beyond repair and had to be destroyed. (David Hugel)

A US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant, Retired, Paul is a veteran of three wars, World War Two, Korea and Vietnam. In Vietnam, Paul flew and test-flew helicopters and acted an as advisor to all VNAF squadrons in Danang, Nha Trang, Saigon and Binh Thuy for four years (1964-1968)

© Peter Alan Lloyd

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