I, W.H. (Bill) Natter, Jr. LTJG USN was on a Rolling Thunder mission today from the USS Ticonderoga at approximately 12:30 local time when I discovered I was hit. Backtracking a little, I launched from the USS Ticonderoga at 11:00 this morning in search of targets of opportunity along the coast of package area IV, preferably barges. We had a recovery time of 14:15 and estimated our departure time from the target area to be 13:30. After an extensive search of the coastal area we located a barge about ten miles northeast of Than Hoa just to the western side of a small island. Before going any further, my leader was LCDR McGrath in NM 301. I was in NM 309. Our call sign is Viceroy.
We decided to hit the barge and proceeded to position ourselves for roll-in. The visibility in the area was approximately one mile, the ceiling was approximately 1000’ overcast. I was behind and to the starboard side of 301 on a 45º bearing, 600’ from him. We were on a southeasterly heading for the run and commencing the run just below the overcast. The leader fired his two rocket pods (LAV 3’s) and broke hard to the left. I fired two rocket pods at an estimated 600 feet and broke hard to the left also. Just as I pulled off the target, my port rudder pedal gave way. I rolled the aircraft level and informed the leader of my difficulty as I pulled up along side of him. As I did, I noticed smoke in the cock pit and immediately got rid of my external fuel cell and the remaining two rocket pods. I put my oxygen mask on, went to 100% O2 and plugged my mike chords into the mask. I was anxious to ditch the aircraft as the smoke increased and I thought it might blow up. I didn’t know where the smoke was coming from and told the leader I wanted to ditch. He gave me a negative over the radio, told me I was okay, and to follow him. The lead informed me he was switching to SAR primary, Button 5, and I did likewise. Before switching, I noticed my radios were going bad. After switching to Button 5 I was unable to get a side tone and unable to contact 301. At that time my aileron control was very difficult and in a short time I had none. I shut off all pieces of electrical equipment when I noticed my flight instrument power light on and my gyro spinning. At the time, I thought I was on an easterly heading, but was informed by the SAR helo that we were on a southeasterly heading. I kept motioning to the leader that I wanted to ditch and he finally gave me the okay. I noticed my airspeed reading 130 kts at that time, dropped my hook and pulled the power back to idle. I blew the canopy open as I passed through 200’, shut the mixture off, the mags off and battery off. Once I saw 90 kts I started descending toward the water. I hit the water and before I knew it was “still” (motionless) in the water. I unfastened my harness as the aircraft began to sink. I tried to evacuate, as the aircraft submerged and became inverted, but couldn’t clear the cockpit as my mike chords were hung on some straps. I forced my hard hat off my head and floated to the surface, inflating the mae west. I located the raft, inflated it and crawled into it. Once in the raft, I pulled out my radio and told the leader I was okay. He informed me the helo would be on the scene in approximately twenty minutes. Once in the raft I checked the time as 12:45. About 13:00 the HU-16 was at the scene. I asked for information and he assured me the helo was on the way, that he could not land due to rough seas. In a few short minutes the helo appeared on the horizon. I swam clear of the raft as the hoist was lowered to me, crawled into it and was hoisted into the helo to return to the USS King DLG-10. I thought the helo pickup was very smooth.
W.H. (Bill) Natter, Jr.
Rescued on 27 Nov, 1966 in the Gulf of Tonkin by the USS King’s “Fastest Helo in the West”, The Flying Bears HC-1 DET 5.
* LCDR M.T. Legare – Pilot “Papa Bear”
* LTJG R. Parkinson – Co Pilot “Zoomie 2”
Photos taken by David Nesbitt, STGC
AMS 1 J.D. Sheridan “Mama Bear”
* AMS 2 L. Hammon “Grumpy”
ADJ 2 D.E. Ogden “Oggey”
AT 2 W.F. Stock “Fats”
AE 2 Z. Harrison “Harry”
AMH 2 W. Maki “Makadoo”
* ADJ 3 D.D. Cogger “Coggie Poo”
AN W. Sullivan “Singing Sully”
AN J. Hood “Babykins”
* The officers directly involved in the rescue