Tiger Force 1971
Thanksgiving Day, 1971, would turn out to be a day that would make history, sadly, during the Vietnam war.
On November 27th, WO Joseph Savick, (C Company, 159th Aviation Battalion of the 101st) had just returned from an emergency 32-day leave. A seasoned pilot, he had been in-country for over 9 months and was well-respected by all. But fate is sometimes fickle.
Early morning on the 28th, Savick and his co-pilot WO Jerald Carter had flown their Chinook helicopter (68-15866) to Mai Loc for a load pickup. Once there, they found that the load wasn’t ready and returned to DaNang after refueling at Correigdor. The round-trip flight was smooth and there was no mention of any problems with the aircraft.
At 11AM, the 159th received notice that they were to provide aircraft for an administrative troop movement for the 1st Bn, 327th Infantry of the 101st. Both Savick and Carter were briefed on the mission – From LZ 401 at DaNang, move the troops to Corregidor pad at Camp Eagle. Along with Savick/Carter, three other crewmen climbed aboard: Michael Crawford, the CrewChief; Willie Oaks, who would be the door gunner; and Raymond Trujillo, who had decided at the last minute to go along to help out. Behind them were 29 soldiers from HHC and A Companies of the 1/327. Just another day in Nam.
Ready to go at high noon, the Chinook sat on the pad waiting for the OK to lift off, but it sat for 20 long minutes due to bad weather. Light rain, fog, and drizzle was clinging to the sky, but nothing that WO Savich wasn’t used to. At 12:30 the radio crackled from Capt Robbins “Playtex 866, you’re ready to launch”. Their weather was overcast at 800 feet, and visibility at 5 miles.
Up and away. One hour later, at 1328, the Hue tower received a call from Playtex 866 that they were declaring an emergency. They gave their bearing but no mention as to what was going on. Hue frantically tried to reach them, but to no avail. Playtex 866, with 34 men aboard, was off the air.
Within 15 minutes the 101st Division was alerted. Calls went out to DaNang and Phu Bai to check their strips for a Chinook. Nothing. The 159th sent up an LOH to start searching for it. At 1430, the 196LIB at DaNang dispatched two more aircraft and 10 minutes later the 11th CAG put two more on standby. Word went out to the Recovery Control Center at Monkey Mountain, but at 1545 they reported that there was no signal. Full force was put into the military machine.
Another call went to the Coastal Surveillance Center in DaNang, and RF/PF units between the Hai Van Pass and Phu Bai were told to be on the lookout for Playtex 866. The USS Epperson (Destroyer) was directed to proceed to the general area and assume a search pattern. Two Vietnamese Junks and two more of their Navy craft also assisted in the search and rescue effort. For four long days and nights, aircraft and ships scoured the area everywhere. The weather got worse with low visibility, high winds, and choppy seas. What could have happened to them?
At 0830 on the 2nd of December, 1971, the call finally came in. An OH-6A from the 2nd Bn Avn said they sighted wreckage of the CH-47. But the weather still wasn’t cooperating. The overall search was called off, and plans put into place for recovery teams to move in. Visibility got worse, and the monsoon rains continued. By 1650, D Company of 2/502 were able to be airlifted in about 2 clicks from the site. The next morning teams from Graves Registration and the Accident Board locked up with D/2/502 to move towards the crash site. It would take two more days of cutting through the mountainous jungle to get there at 0830, December 5th, 7 days after the crash.
The aircraft was located 650 feet up the mountain, and was completely demolished. Located in a creek bed, it had hit a 50 degree slope with such impact that it caused it’s fuel cells to rupture resulting in a flash fire. There were no survivors nor any indication that anyone had survived.
29 soldiers from 1/327 and 5 crewmen were lost. The official investigation showed that the Chinook had taken a single hit, creating spalling, or loss of adhesion, causing it to fall apart.
This single disaster would go down in the history books as the second worst helicopter crash during all of Vietnam.