174th Assault
Helicopter Company

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Shark 722 Crash at Minh Long
September 1971

SP4 Mel Lutgring was flying as C/E in Witchdoctor 650 (#UH-1H 69-16650) and a LTC, who was 'Chief' of an IG team inspecting the 174th AHC, was flying in the co-pilots seat. Their flight was on ground near a Minh Long FSB in preparation for a CA and extraction of some ARVNs. "We were at flight idle on the ground, with the rest of the flight, waiting for one of our Shark Team 'cover' gunships (#UH-1M 66-00722) to come out of 'rearm' at the FSB. Also, we were waiting for a 174th slick (serving as a part of the Witchdoctor team) that was bringing out a replacement tail rotor drive shaft from Chu Lai for our lead bird in the Dolphin flight. It had taken a hit through the tail rotor drive shaft earlier."

As the 174th slick, with the replacement shaft, was on short final, Mel witnessed this Shark gunship, on takeoff from the firebase. It appeared to lose rotor RPM, then descended and hit nose low before flipping over on its back. Mel says: "On departure, the Shark had snagged some 'commo' wire, and the aircraft was so heavy (it was normal to fly at or over maximum gross weight) that there was not enough reserve power to 'pull through' the wire. The 174th slick pilot, after seeing the crash, landed next to the Shark and picked up the crew (everyone got out all right except for a new Shark crew member who hurt his back during the crash). One of the other pilots actually reached in and shut off the still-running turbine. They then dropped off the tail rotor drive shaft for the lead Dolphin, and headed back to Chu Lai to the hospital, all within about two minutes!"

Mel's ship, (Witchdoctor 650) dropped of The Lieutenant Colonel to stay and investigate the crash. A pilot from the Dolphin, with the battle-damaged T/R shaft, then flew as copilot on the Witchdoctor 650 to continue the delayed extraction.

In the first picture, below, the Dolphin has just lifted off after picking up the Shark crew. Looking closely, you can see the investigation team outside the right well of the wreck.

In the first photo below: Note the rocket pod, still full of rockets, to the left of the aircraft.
In the next photo down: Note the right rocket pod. Here, several rockets are partly out of the pods, and the silver item on the near side of the rocket pod is the engine inlet partical separator. The bracket sticking up to the left of the partical separator is the bracing for the minigun. (Also note that a whole "passel" of kids have gathered and are watching from under the tree in the background).

Caption for the last image is at the bottom of the photos

In the last photo just above, the tail rotor appears to be relatively intact and still connected to the 90-degree gearbox. The main rotor blade RPM was probably so low prior to impact with the ground that the tail rotor was barely turning when the tail hit.
Notice the gun truck and slicks in the background. . The first (left) slick in the background is the lead Dolphin that had taken a bullet through the tail rotor drive shaft (note several people standing around the tail boom). Witchdoctor 650 is the #3 bird on the ramp (Mel had a clear view from the left well).

(All comments and photos by Mel Lutgring, Minh Long, Sept. 1971)

[Assistant Webmaster update: In a 1/05 email from Rick Christopher (C/E 1971) to Mel, Rick states: "I don't remember who the crew was except one. That would be Galen 'Colorado' Koontz. I remember it did happen on take off and they did hit the wire and went down. Koontz was the one injured and hospitalized. We went to see him, brought him some whiskey, if I remember right, and tried to cheer him up. It seems that the nurses, un-politely, asked us to leave. He wasn't feeling so great. I remember distinctly though, the look of pain on his face. It's strange what stays very vivid and what is blurry. His bed was on the right side, as we turned right into the ward, about 3/4 of the way down the room. I see his face is as if it happened today. The rest the the story, as to who went, the crew and etc... fuzzy. I don't think it was C/E 'Colorado's' regular ship. Now my question: Does anyone have any recent info on 'Colorado'?"-Rick]

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