HC-7 RESCUE 112(1) 24-Jul-1972 (Monday)
HH-3A Sikorsky Seaking helo Det 110 Big Mother #71
USS Biddle (DLG-34) Combat Day (2)
2 miles off North Vietnam coast
Water: 86⁰ Air: 90⁰ Wind: 5 knots Sea State: 2- 3’ waves
Pilot – LT Harry J. Zinser
Co-pilot – LT Joseph E. Driscoll
1st crew – AO-3 Joseph E. Hilyer
2nd crew – AT-2 Thomas M. McCann
Alert received – 1345: UHF Mayday
Vehicle departed – 1345: 40 miles –
Arrived on scene – 1400 : delay in receiving vectors
Located survivor – 1400: visual sighting of orange flotation and smoke
Begin retrieval – 1403: overwater hover
Ended retrieval – 1408: survivors hoisted aboard aircraft
Survivor disembarked – 1430: ambulatory – USS Biddle (DLG-34)
F-4E Phantom 66-0369 (Gunsmoke 04) 421 TFS, (Black Widows) 366 TFW, USAF, Takhli, Thailand
Capt Sam A. Hodnett
1 Lt David M. Fallert
A Phantom was shot down by a MiG-21 during a Linebacker raid near Kep. The aircraft was part of the escort flight and was damaged by an air-to-air missile fired by the MiG. The Phantom headed for the coast and the crew eventually ejected over the sea about 25 miles southeast of Haiphong. Both the crew were rescued by a Navy HH-3A SAR helicopter. (5)
Pilot: Zinser (10)
Navy RESCAP with weapons kept sampans away by HARROWING ZOOM DIVES! HEAVY AAA fire ( Large guns, 70-120 mm) from shore.
Co-pilot: Driscoll – “Stars and Stripes” 7-29-1972 “Copter Rescues Downed Fliers in Haiphong Harbor”
“We could hear the shells exploding around us constantly and could even feel the concussion of the blasts.”
RESCUE REPORT – Brief Narrative of Rescue Episode:
Big Mother 71 launched from USS Biddle at 12:01. (12)
12:51 USS Long Beach sets flight quarters. (13)
After completing a HIFR from the USS LONG BEACH, (CLG(N) -9) . BIG MOTHER 71 received vectors to preposition station off HAI PRONG HARBOR. Approximately five minutes after departure a MAY DAY call was heard on GUARD frequency from GUNSMOKE 04. The pilot called “FEET WET near the mouth of HAI PRONG HARBOR”. Another transmission was heard several minutes later calling two good chutes and both pilots in the water 20 miles off the beach. BIG MOTHER 71 was expediting to the scene at that time. After a slight delay in getting the proper vectors and having RESCAP aircraft come up on SAR frequency, BIG MOTHER 71 was spotted by ROCK RIVER 101 and vectored to the survivors who were approximately 2 miles off of CAT BA ISLAND. Coastal defense batteries were opening up on the survivors as BIG MOTHER 71 came into the area. The first survivor was sighted with minimum delay and a swimmer was dropped to assist him. Numerous shells were falling in the immediate area at this time. After approximately 45 seconds, BIG MOTHER 71 returned to hover over the swimmer and survivor, hoisting both into the aircraft with no dif¬ficulty. The helo began transition to forward flight as the men were be¬ing hoisted aboard the aircraft. An immediate right turn was initiated, after departing the hover and a shell was observed to hit right on the pos¬ition of the hover, blowing the survivors raft 200 feet into the air. The second survivor was sighted several hundred yards to the left of the aircraft when a shell hit right next to him. An approach was made to a 20 foot hover while the crewman threw the sling into the man’s lap. At this time, two more shells hit 100 yards to the left of the aircraft, the concussion knocking the helo to the right. As soon as the second survivor was in the sling, BIG MOTHER 71 broke hover and maneuvering to avoid shells hitting the area, left the scene. The helo flew at 40′ and 120 knots for approximately 10 miles avoiding fire which was paralleling the flight path. Once clear of all fire the helo proceeded back to RED CROWN where an un¬eventful landing was made. (14:34) (12)
The second survivor should never have popped his smoke; as this allowed the coastal defense guns to get a bearing on him. The second survivor entered the horse collar backwards.
Big Mother launched at 16:56 to return to their preposition station. (12)
STATEMENT OF LT ZINSER – pilot of Big Mother 71
BIG MOTHER 71 launched at 11:30 from USS BIDDLE (DLG-34) to preposition for two strikes then returned to the USS LONG BEACH for a HIFR in order to be on station for the Air Force Alfa strike. At completion of HIFR from the USS LONG BEACH, I gave control of the aircraft to LT DRISCOLL as were vectored to our preposition point. At approximately 13:45H, we heard a call from GUNSMOKE 04 indicating he had been hit and was heading south for HAI PHONG HARBOR. At the same point another aircraft reported having been hit and had #1 engine in ground idle and was given vectors to DANANG. When the initial call of CUNSMOKE 04 was heard while monitoring the attack frequency, the guns were armed and the swimmer was readied for water entry as we increased airspeed toward HAI PHONG HARBOR. Our #1 UHF radio was on SAR Common and #2 UHF was monitoring the attack frequency and these frequencies were not changed during the SAR effort. • As we approached the harbor, contact was made with RESCAP, ROCK RIVER 101, giving him our position from OSWALD and requested vectors to the scene. ROCK 1 reported two good chutes and survivors in the water and asked for a short count to get a visual on us. Following the short count, ROCK 1 had us in sight and vectored us 15 degrees left then seconds later gave us another 10 degree left heading change. At this point, we were approximately 10 miles from the scene and on a vector that would take us directly over the pilot we picked up first. As we approached the scene for the rescue, I paid particularly close attention to GRANDE NORWAY ISLAND as we were passing approximately 5 miles to the west of it to see if they were shooting anything at us. As far as could be determined no fire was coming from the island while reportedly has guns, but I did spot what I thought to be a junk which was also seen by the downed pilot but which didn’t interfere with our rescue. • After passing the island, all eyes were turned to the beach to locate the downed pilots and spot enemy fire. At about a mile, we spotted the aircraft wreckage which was sticking out of the water and was initially thought to be the survivors. As we passed over the wreckage we spotted an orange raft about a mile ahead and continued inbound and observed our first enemy fire, which was landing a considerable distance from the raft. As we made a high speed pass over the survivor, ROCK 1 marked us over the survivor and we readied the helo for a swimmer drop. As we turned into the wind, AT2 McCANN was prepared and gave us a thumbs up almost immediately after water contact. We made a right hand JINXING maneuver after the swimmer drop and as we turned north to the beach noticed the shells were landing closer, being in the right seat, I took control of the aircraft as we came in for the pickups. When the survivor and crewman were reported “clear of the water” we began forward flight and when they were reported “in the door”, another JINXING maneuver was commenced. Up to this point, we had not yet seen the second pilot. As we were JINXING after our first pickup ROCK 1 gave us a right turn for our vector to the other pilot. At this time, 1st crewman AO3 HILYER reported the survivor at our 4:30 position, approximately 200 yards from where we made the first pick-up. While turning to get sight of the survivor an enemy shell exploded directly on the raft of the pilot we had picked up only seconds before sending a GEYSER upwards approximately 200 feet. Another shell then landed approximately 50 yards from the other pilot and we became concerned about this condition. We immediately requested ROCK 1 to log in some more support. However, all his bombs had been dropped, but he made passes and fired his sidewinders. Shells were now exploding frequently in our vicinity and the decision was made not to drop a swimmer to eliminate our hover time. A rapid approach was made to the W.S.C. and the level off hover from a flare was at about 20 feet. The crewman reported almost immediately the survivor was in the sling and clear of the water, but kept saying “STEADY” which was somewhat confusing. However, forward flight had already been commenced when the survivor was reported clear of the water and when I heard “AT THE DOOR”, turned left to help the survivor into the aircraft. While in this hover an exploding shell just left of us shook the entire aircraft and I instinctively looked aft to see if we had been hit. When our second pilot was reported “IN THE AIRCRAFT” it was balls to the wall all the way out with several high speed JINXING turns. Enemy fire kept exploding on our left for approximately 10 miles out. We remained at about 40 feet and 122 knots during the high speed departure. • All phases of the rescue were executed expeditiously and smoothly. ROCK RIVER 1 vectored us beautifully into the area and over our survivors. Hover time in both instances were minimal and our crew handled their responsibilities professionally. LT DRISCOLL did an expert job of maneuvering the aircraft into position and talking to RESCAP. I handled the hovers because of my right seat position and the event that really made it all a success was the ability of the W.S.C. to get into the horse collar unassisted whereby we eliminated dangerous hover time on zeroed in guns. The flight back to RED CROWN was uneventful and HARBORMASTER was awaiting our arrival on the flight deck. • The only minor difficulty encountered was confusion on the crewman’s report of “STEADY” after reporting man “CLEAR OF THE WATER”. As mentioned before, forward flight was commenced when I heard “CLEAR OF THE WATER”. During debrief, by “STEADY” our crewman had intended us to remain in forward flight as we were, without any violent maneuvers until they had him in the aircraft.
STATEMENT OF LT DRISCOLL – copilot of Big Mother 71
We departed the USS BIDDLE (DLG-34) at 11:50H to cover two Alpha strikes in the HAI PHONG area. The strikes were uneventful and we departed the area to HIFR from the USS LONG BEACH, (CLG-N-9), prior to covering the 13:45 USAF strike. • After LT ZINSER completed the HIFR I took control of the aircraft and headed back to the preposition point. We were enroute for 5 minutes when a MAY DAY call from GUNSMOKE 04 was heard on GUARD, calling feet wet off the mouth of HAI PHONG HARBOR. I increased airspeed to 120 knots, ordered AT2 McCANN to get into his swim gear and LT ZINSER went through the SAR checklist. • No further transmissions were heard for several minutes and when we arrived at a point 30 NM from the LONG BEACH I reduced airspeed and asked for more information on the survivor’s location. While the LONG BEACH was gathering more information, I heard another call stating that two good chutes had been observed and both pilots were in the water 20 NM off the coast. The LONG BEACH then came up and vectored us 030 for 4000 yards from our obit point. I called the LONG BEACH back and asked to have any Air Force aircraft on the scene to come up on our frequency. Shortly thereafter ROCK RIVER 101, a Navy F-4 came up and, after sighting our aircraft, began vectoring us to the survivors. The transmission calling the survivors 20 NM off the coast was incorrect as their actual location was 2 miles off the CAT BA ISLAND. • I saw several coastal defense shells go off as we entered the area and was told that the survivors were in the area of the splashes. Shortly thereafter, we sighted the wreckage and the pilot in the water. Numerous shells were falling around us at this time. I made one low pass to get positive identification on the pilot brought the aircraft around into the wind and flew down to 10’/10 knots to drop swimmer McCANN. After he left the aircraft, I flew a 360 degree turn, saw a 3 second smoke from McCANN and gave the aircraft to LT ZINSER to make the pickup. The pickup went smoothly although shells were continuing to hit in the immediate vicinity. We broke hover as the survivor and swimmer came up to the cargo door and LT ZINSER gave me control of the aircraft. I made an immediate right turn and we observed a shell land right on the spot we made the pickup. The survivor’s raft was blown approximately 200 feet into the air. • I looked off to the left and sighted the second survivor’s smoke. The coastal defense guns immediately opened up on the smoke while I yelled at the man to put it OUT. One shell landed within 25 yards of him and I thought he may have been injured. I was also concerned since the guns now had the exact position of the second man. • I called RESCAP at this time and asked them to make some passes on the gun emplacements while we went after the second man. All RESCAP aircraft were out of bombs so they made strafing runs with their 20mm guns, at the same time firing ballistic SIDEWINDERS and SHRIKE missiles. • I again relinquished control of the aircraft to LT ZINSER as we approached the second man. Due to the heavy fire we were taking, the decision was made not to drop our swimmer. AO3 HILYER dropped the horse collar right into the man’s lap and he wasted no time getting himself hooked up. At this time two shells hit on our port side, the first of which knocked the aircraft to the right. As the second survivor broke the water LT ZINSER transitioned to forward flight, I again took control of the aircraft after the man was safely aboard and maneuvered to avoid the shells hitting in front of us. The coastal defense guns were hitting between 100 yards and one mile during the period, we were in the area. • I proceeded out of the area at 40 feet and 120 knots jinxing to avoid the splashes paralleling our flight path. I remained in the flight regime for the next 10 miles, and once out of range I brought the aircraft up to 500 feet, called ROCK RIVER to tell him that both pilots were in good shape and we then proceeded uneventfully back to BIDDLE. • I cannot speak highly enough concerning the teamwork and coordination surrounding the rescue. Everyone involved performed his job superbly. HILYER our first crewman and McCANN, our swimmer were really beautiful, LT ZINSER’s steady hover and great airmanship were instrumental in minimizing the time we were under fire. I’d estimate that the actual time over the second survivor was no more than 10 seconds. • I cannot say enough about the RESCAP aircraft. ROCK RIVER 101’s vectors brought us right over the survivors and he remained in a low orbit over us although constantly exposed to AAA fire. The CHAMPION A-7 although hit by AAA, continued to take strafing runs on the gun sites. Radio discipline was excellent throughout the entire sequence of events. Although the enemy fire was very intense throughout the entire pickup, their efforts held it down enough to allow us to safely make the pickups and leave area without taking a hit.
STATEMENT OF AO3 HILYER – 1st crewman of Big Mother 71
We had been on a preposition before and had just finished a hypher (HIFR) with the USS LONG BEACH. We were on our way to station when we had a MAY DAY over the radio. •
So we started, looking for them after the LONG BEACH gave us directions There was one F-4 in the area giving us directions. As we were getting close to the survivor, we took some fire from the nine o’ clock position then the three o’clock position. The fire continued until we left the area. • We put AT2 McCANN in the water at 10′ and 10 knots. After putting him in, we went to the left therefore I lost sight of the survivor and the swimmer at 6:30 position. The pilot saw the swimmer give the signal they were ready to be picked-up. So, we went in and picked them up with no problem. As the fire was getting closer we didn’t put a swimmer in for the second survivor. We just went in and picked him up on the horse collar. The rescue went smoothly. The Air Force pilot got in the hoarse collar backwards. Suggest more training with horse collar for Air Force pilots.
STATEMENT OF AT2 McCann – 2nd crewman of Big Mother 71
On 24 July 1972 I flew second crewman in BIG MOTHER 71 launched off RED CROWN at 11:55 for our first preposition of the day We made our usual security check of the helo and asked permission from the pilots to set up the guns. The pilots gave us permission to set them up. At 13:30 OSWALD called us into hypher (HIFR). We dismantled the guns and went in. The hypher (HIFR) went smoothly and we started back for our preposition. Setting up the guns on the way. At 13:45 we got a MAY DAY from SMOKE 04. We started heading for where the chutes went down, on the way to the scene I got in my swim gear. We arrived on scene at 13:55. I was looking out of one of the port windows for the pilots, when I saw a splash and a column of black smoke, at our 9 o’clock position about 100 yards away, I informed the pilots. After that, rounds were hitting all around us. I got into the cargo door to jump for the first survivor. I landed in the water about 50 feet from him. I asked him if he was alright, as I swam over to him. I checked to see if he had disconnected everything he had. I pulled him about 100 feet from his raft and gave the signal that we were ready to be picked-up. The helo came back and I hooked the both of us to the hoist and up we went. We headed for the next survivor. Joe HILYER the 1st crewman, told me to operate the hoist. We got the WSO in the helo in no time. We left the area at 14:05. We landed on RED CROWN at. 14:30. • I thought this was one of the smoothest rescues I’ve been in. The pilot and WSO were both ready when we came to get them. Everything Just: went like clockwork.
Except from: “Stars and Stripes” 10-17-1973 – “A Navy Superstar: Helo Man Decorated for Ciet Heroism” Thomas McCann – awarded Silver Star & DFC “Those men needed help and I was well trained for the job. I just did my job. This is the proudest day of my life.”
Except from: “Navy Coordination Saves AF Duo” – Naval Aviation News – October 1972
The first aircraft on the scene were Phantom IIs piloted by Lt. Jim Olsen and Lt. Keith Skean of VF-161 from Midway. They took station over the downed Air Force aviators to guide in the helo and ward off enemy attacks. • Joining the F-4s within minutes were two A-7s flown by Commander Neil Harvey and his wingman Ltjg. Gene Goodrow of VA-56. “As soon as we arrived, we saw that four guns at a coastal defense site on the island had opened fire on the survivors and our aircraft,” says Cdr. Harvey. “We had the guns in sight and rolled in on them firing our 20mm cannons. Then we set up a racetrack pattern over the guns to keep the gunners’ heads down and give the guys in the helo a chance to make the rescue.” • While the CVW-5 planes conducted their close air support, Big Mother swooped in to pick up the first of the downed flyers.
1) Numbering as per HC-7 Rescue Log (accumulative rescue number)
2) HC-7 Rescue Log
3) HC-7 Det 110 Rescue report
4) Map – Goggle Earth
5) “Vietnam – Air Losses” By: Chris Hobson (with permission)
6) Loss aircraft location data provided by: W. Howard Plunkett (LtCol USAF, retired)
10) HC-7 History collection; Ron Milam – Historian
12) USS Biddle – Deck Logs
13) USS Long Beach – Deck Logs
WSO – Weapons System Officer
(Compiled / written by: Ron Milam, HC-7 Historian – HC-7, 2-1969 to 7-1970, Det 108 & 113)