" More than one reason to monitor 'GUARD Channel'."
This happened late June 1969, southwest of DaNang. There were 10
of us on board an EC-47 "doing our thing" at about 8,000 feet MSL.
This "electronic goon's" call sign was "Cap" and we were from Pleiku.
Front-end crew was assigned to the 362nd Tactical Warfare Squadron.
I was the aircraft commander and don't recall names of the crew, but
those on board will remember this day.
Flying rules called for all airborne aircraft in Vietnam to monitor
the "Guard Channel" on UHF radio, 243.0 MHz. Obvious reasons were
to listen for a "recall", announcements about "heavy artillery"
impact zones or emergency calls. Practical rules called for us to
sometimes turn off "Guard" because a great deal of chatter on it
often interfered with our onboard communications.
So it was on this day - "Guard" was off (temporarily turned off by
the co pilot-he forgot to turn it back on). I have had a few
harrowing experiences in my flying career. What occurred on this day
still causes my pulse to quicken.
The Strategic Air Command's B-52 ARC LIGHT strikes were almost always
preceded by an announcement on Guard Channel about "heavy artillery"
impact zones. It gave locations relative to a local TACAN (navigation
aid) with the radial and distance (DME) from it. On this day, the
TACAN was at Da Nang, radials were between 190-210 degrees and
distance was between 80-100 miles (I don't remember exactly). And we
were there, unknowing of a three ship formation of B52s high above us.
We had missed the warning.
At the moment when the aircraft began a violent vibration followed by
succession of banging sounds, I was at the Navigator's station talking
with him. The co pilot and crew chief were at the controls (it was
customary for anyone who wanted to spell the pilots). I was certain
we had collided with another aircraft or had been hit by ground fire
as the EC47 abruptly rolled to the left and began a rapid descent. I
scrambled to get to the controls as the crew chief exited my seat.
A "controllability check" proved the old goon was still flyable. Aside
from the exploding noise, heavy vibration and violent turbulence (like
riding on a washboard road), I could find nothing else to threaten
continued flight. During the recovery from the diving left turn, I
could see black and red flashes coming from the ground. I thought it
was anti air fire (AAA) aimed at us but soon ruled this out.
It took only seconds later to realize that we were in the middle of
an ARC LIGHT Strike. Bombs from the higher altitude B52s (they carried
as many as 107 each) were falling around us and impacting directly
underneath. I knew then that the noise, vibration and turbulence were
caused by the exploding concussion of the iron bombs impacting the
ground. I could see the "train" the bomb pattern left as it moved
away from us. I wasn't sure, however, that one of the falling bombs
had not struck the aircraft.
It was over in a matter of seconds - and we were still flying. All
on board were shaken by what could have been a disaster. Fortunately,
no one was hurt other than a few frayed nerves.
I flew to Da Nang, "declared an emergency" landing situation (I was
not sure if we had suffered any structural damage) and recovered
there safely. Close inspection by maintenance personnel found no
noticeable damage and the old bird was declared flyable.
I called the Squadron Commander at Pleiku and requested permission
to abort the rest of our mission - the crew was too shaken to continue
to work and we wanted to RTB (return to base). It was OK with him.
This happened near the end of my tour (155 missions/950 hours) and
I flew the goon only one more time in Vietnam. The type of flying
we did frequently put us in harms way of ARC LIGHT Strikes, our
ground fired artillery, other low flying aircraft and enemy anti air.
I'm sure there are lots of stories like this one.
L. Gordon Bassett September 3, 1999
Aircraft Commander San Antonio, Texas
362nd Tactical Electronic Squadron