Pacific Stars & Stripes
09Mar71 Page 6
ARVN Aid Rescue of 7 Airmen Down in Laos
By SPEC. 5 STEVE CONAWAY
S&S Staff Correspondent
QUANG TRI, Vietnam - Seven American helicopter crewmen were flown out of Laos Sunday after spending two days and two nights in an area swarming with North Vietnamese army regulars.
Their Army UH1 Huey had been downed by Communist ground fire 12 miles inside Laos near Route 9 Friday as they were flying in support of an insertion of South Vietnamese ground troops.
They were picked up Sunday after being led to a landing zone by a unit of elite Hac Bao (Black Panthers).
The commander of the downed chopper, Capt. Ralph E. (Butch) Elliott, 23, told newsmen here Sunday how he and the other six men in his crew set up a defensive position in an abandoned NVA machine gun nest and fought Communists and thirst until rescue craft could get to them.
Elliott said when the helicopter went down no one was hurt, but they were only able to carry their weapons and survival radio out of the craft.
"U.S. Air Force forward air controllers (FACs) go on station right away and stayed with us the whole time we were down," he said. "It was really a blessing to have them with us."
He said the enemy was not looking for us Friday night. "They were too busy pulling off parts of the helicopter and carrying them off.
"That night I estimated there were 100 NVA in our area. The Air Force said that was a very, very low estimate," he said.
"We took turns crawling up under some nearby trees and tried to rest for the night. We had no water with us. IT really hurt," he said.
Elliott said an Air Force "Super Jolly Green Giant" helicopter and two Army Hueys had tried to pick them up Friday but were driven off by enemy fire.
One of the Army helicopters carried Elliott's commander, who promoted Elliott over the radio as the chopper left the area.
Saturday night, Elliott said, a B52 raid was called in about a mile away from their position. "It was a beautiful sight," he said, "but I hope that I never have to be that close to one again. The Air Force did a wonderful job in placing it so close to us."
Saturday night the crew got into a 45-minute fire fight with the NVA. One of the men took a minor frag wound from one of the four grenades thrown at them, Elliott said. "I think we must have hit a couple of them which caused them to withdraw," he said. "It is a good thing that they did. We were just about out of ammunition."
Sunday morning the crew took sponges that had been used as packing in a canister dropped to them and soaked up enough dew from their weapons and nearby leaves to wipe their faces, he said. There was not enough water to drink.
The ARVN Black Panther unit had been put in to find them Saturday but because of dense jungle did not reach them until Sunday morning, Elliott said.
The crewmen were picked up by two Army Hueys at a landing zone the South Vietnamese had carved out of the side of a hill, he said.
Elliott told newsmen, "It's great to be here. I sure wouldn't want to do it again."
One of the crew's door gunners, Spec. 4 Harold Brasket, 21, said, "That was definitely a bad experience, but I'm not going to quit flying because of it."
(This was a crew from the 174th AHC company, 14th Avn Bn. This unit normally supported the 11th Inf. Brigade of the Americal Division. But for operation Lam Son 719 the 14th Avn Bn pulled up to support the operation. There were heavy losses of men and helicopters from the unit during this operation. Photo of the pilot and crewchief later appeared on page 6 of the March 10, 1971 issue)