USS King SAR: A Pilot’s Perspective
I was in Attack Squadron SEVENTY-TWO embarked in USS Franklin D. ROOSEVELT, CVA-42, flying A4E aircraft. On 22 Aug 1966 I was assigned to a two aircraft IRONHAND/road reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. The IRONHAND mission is a SAM suppression and kill mission. The road reconnaissance mission requires one to fly over a given road segment and attempt to find trucks, fuel dumps, bridges, etc. and bomb them. We were unsuccessful in finding any lucrative targets so headed for the coast to hunt for water borne logistics craft.(WBLC).
We sighted some large junks and set up a pattern to fire our rockets at them. On my first run, I depressed the bomb pickle (also used for release of rockets) and heard the “whoosh” of the rockets as they ripple fired and immediately saw a cloud of black debris or particles fly past my cockpit and wing. I was armed with LAU-3A rocket pods, containing 22 2.75 inch rockets. These pods were not popular with aircrews because they were fat and, therefore, drag inducing (cost us fuel and slowed the aircraft down) and were not that accurate. I suspect they were of the Korean war vintage.
As soon as the cloud of debris passed me, the engine began to tear itself up from FOD (Foreign Object Damage). I received a fire warning light and felt the resultant loss of thrust from the engine. I pulled up from my firing run and turned from the coast to begin a descent. I called to my wingmate and made a MAYDAY call telling the SAR forces of my situation. I went through the pre-ejection procedures and when I reached 1200 feet, I pulled the face curtain ejection handle. Out I went with a bang! In no time at all I was in my deployed parachute gently floating down to the Tonkin Gulf. It was a bright, sunny day with almost no breeze, and one could see forever. The water was surprisingly warm and comfortable. My first concern was to get out from under my parachute canopy as it had settled right on top of me. Many aircrew have been lost having been pulled under the water by parachutes filled with water. I swam around extricating myself from the many riser cords floating and got free. I then inflated my raft and got in. I then pulled out my signaling devices to get ready for pickup. My survival radio never worked I learned later.
In no time at all (I think I was in the water no more than fifteen to twenty minutes – but when one is having so much fun, time goes by quickly) I noted two helos headed for my location. My trustworthy wingman was circling around vectoring the SAR assets to my position. One helo was a large one (possibly a H-53) and the other one was an SH-2. The little one was roaring in as fast as it could go and got to my position first. I had noted that as it approached, there were repeated splashes in the Gulf. I learned later the crew was throwing ammo and other objects out of the helo so they could be at hover weight when it arrived over me. They made a perfect approach and soon picked me up.
It was a short ride to KING where I was cordially welcomed. The CO (CDR Tesh, USN) asked me if I desired to go back to the carrier that late afternoon or the next morning. I replied I would like to spend the night on KING. There were two reasons for this decision. First, I had burned my hand in the ejection and knew I couldn’t be put on the fight schedule back on the carrier. Secondly, I had served in destroyers for almost three years before reporting to flight training and felt at home in that environment. I wanted a chance to see how KING operated as, I believe, NorthSAR or REDCROWN. I have forgotten which. The corpsman put a bandage on my hand, my flightsuit was washed and dried, and I had a good steak dinner in the wardroom. The next morning I was ferried back to the carrier with some nice pictures and mementoes of my visit to KING.
A postscript to this incident is interesting. The day before my ejection, another pilot in my squadron was over the beach and fired his LAU-3A pods with the same result. As he was over the beach, the pilot had every right to the belief that he may have been hit by AAA. He was able to get back near the carrier before he had to eject. It turned out after investigation the rockets were of the same lot number and were defective.
In summary, I remember this incident almost as clearly today as when it happened. I am grateful that I was flying a great aircraft with a wonderful, reliable ejection seat; it was maintained properly; I had excellent training; and that the Navy had a superb SAR team on station in the Gulf. I wish to express my deepest appreciation to the officers and men of KING for their contributions in this successful rescue and their war effort. Needless to say, I have special feelings for the members of HC-2 Det KING for their professional and quick rescue.
I was able to get back to flying shortly after this incident. I ended up making three combat deployments (one A4 and two A6 (Intruder)) and over 300 combat missions. I went on to command an A6 squadron and served on staffs, putting in 30 proud years in the Navy, retiring as a Capt.
The 22 of August 1966 was a day I will never forget!
Ken Craig, CAPT. USN (Retired)