Another personal recollection of the Baron 56 crash.
I was a security police officer and had only been at NKP a month when November 21, 1972 rolled around. I was still feeling my way around, trying to make sense of the craziness going on at that base, including that within the security police squadron. Perhaps some of you who were there then, remember seeing an occasional sentry asleep on the flight line, or heard about our guard mounts which were so belligerent that the wing commander had an O-6 attend each one, or heard about the midnight race relations classes held for the off-going swing shifts. But I digress.
On the afternoon of November 21, The security police squadron staff was having a sawadee, a Hello & goodbye celebration, at the Thai restaurant. As someone was being introduced, I heard the Central Security Control (CSC) comm./plotter alerting us to an off baseplane crash on the radio.
The SP commander (An interim one TDY from Hickam AFB--the assigned one had been fired), I and a few others left the function and got up to speed with what was going on.
According to plan, a disaster response force would assemble and then go out as an organized unit. I asked CSC to find out from TUOC how long that would take and no one knew. Confusion seemed to reign.
While outside, we could see the smoke curling up from the crash site in the trees west of the fence line. I had been out in that area a few days before, meeting a few village chiefs with some interpreters who worked for me in my ground combat intelligence (GCI) office. I told my commander that it seemed senseless to wait for the response team to form up since the accident scene was close by, and that I could get out there and at least maybe do a little good and relay some information back.
The helicopters would probably have all the injured picked up and we could secure the scene and protect any classified information lying around until the response force arrived. He agreed. I had CSC dispatch a Thai Civilian Guard who was familiar with that area to pick me up. We went barreling out the gate and soon down a trail, stopping in a tiny village to grab the village chief who knew where to go.
Then in what seemed no time we bounced and dipped our way to the crash site. It was still daylight but dusk was setting in. I expected to find all the injured gone and just a scene to scour for classified information. Boy, was I wrong!! The Thai guard spoke no English and I Spoke no Thai. But we stopped and ran up to the scene together communicating with gestures.
It was surreal. I couldn't believe it! No rescuers had yet arrived. With darkness oncoming, and the canopy above, the flames at the aircraft highlighted several figures who appeared to be wandering, in shock, and no doubt injured, among the trees. The Thai guard started out to gather them up but I gestured to him that we needed to get to the plane and see what we could do there since it was still burning in places. Something that stuck in my mind was seeing one or more of the crew members walking about but carrying briefcases (classified information?) or satchels despite the trauma they had suffered.
We went to the front of the aircraft and saw two bodies, as I recall. This part is still hazy to me. One, I think, was in the pilot seat to my best recollection, burned beyond all recognition. Lying 10 or 15 feet in front of the nose and off slightly to the side was another crewmember. He lay on his back. He appeared to be conscious but in shock. He was moaning in agony and kept raising, bending and lowering his right leg. He could not move his arms. I motioned to my Thai partner to help me move him further away from the flames. We gingerly tried to move him but thats when to my horror, I realized that his chest must have been crushed and it looked as though his flight suit was soaked with blood.
I took off my BDU shirt and wrapped it over his chest. I remember thinking at this point that he probably was not conscious after all, but I wasn't sure. I tried to comfort him, talking to him, wiping a handerchief on his forehead, telling him help was coming, but in my own mind I was sure he was dying. I felt so helpless. I had seen helicopters over the site before leaving the base, and heard helicopters hovering for some time but I couldn't understand why no one had dropped in from the air. With all that capability (Jolly Greens and ARRS and 21st SOS) and the short distance from the base, it seemed ludicrous; unbelievable!
I stayed with the crew member there, and the Thai guard and village chief looked around the plane for more people. At some point, out of the darkness came a crewmember off of a helicopter and he had a stretcher. I told him that as far as I knew at that point the crewmember before me on the ground appeared to be the worst off and was dying. We got him on the stretcher and away from the aircraft a little more. I ask where the others were; He said to his knowledge, there were no others, that the helicopters were afraid to set down. He had no radio. He had come from a clearing a few hundred yards away. I told him we had to try and get this crewmember out first then we could come back and round up the others and assist as best we could till the disaster force arrived.
The village chief, the Thai guard, the aircrew member, and myself, picked up the stretcher and started off in the direction of the clearing. We literally ran all that distance in the dark and no one tripped or fell.
We got to a clearing and there was a helicopter overhead, still hovering. The clearing sure did seem plenty big to us for the bird to come down, but it didn't. I shined a flashlight on the stretcher and tried my best to cajole the pilot to get down and pick this injured man up. I just knew we were watching him die at our feet. It was so heart wrenching to feel so helpless. Finally I told the crewman to stay there till someone could work up the nerve to pick the two of them up. We then ran back to the scene to see what else we could do.
At that point the disaster response force arrived. I remember telling someone about what we had seen and done to that point. We were told to go back to the base and they had everything under control. We piled in our vehicle, dropped the village chief off, and went back to base. I said good bye to the Thai guard and thanked him.
I never saw the lone fireman Lee Vandergriff refers to in his account. I shared his frustration at what I thought at the time to be delay and inaction that might have saved lives. It was probably the most frustrating few hours I have spent in my life. I was emotionally drained from the experience. I stopped by the O'club to grab some food. I felt weak from hunger as I recall. I remember being wary because I didn't have my BDU shirt on, but no one said anything. It was late. The next day was back to normal. No one ever interviewed me or asked me for a statement. I don't think anyone ever reviewed the Police Blotter either. The whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth.
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