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I was the flight engineer on the Jolly that pulled Bill Sparks out of Indian Country in Viet Nam.
This is my version of the rescue I wrote for the Jolly Green Web page in 1997 describing 'Sparky's rescue.
Flying the Jolly Green HH-3E rescue helicopter in south East Asia can best be described as hours upon hours of boredom waiting for some poor fighter jock to get his ride blown out from under him. This was the norm with the occasional adrenaline rushes during the Search And Rescue operations.
November 5th, 1967 started out as one of those boring days. I had been on landing-strip alert at Lima Site 36 in northern Laos for two days. It was late afternoon, and I was sitting on the Jolly's aft ramp just day dreaming about my ' Freedom Bird ride ' that was only thirty-two days away
. . . when all hell broke loose !
At 15:31 rescue control Crown 2 called alerting us that Red Dog Lead [ F105F Wild Weasel Richard Dutton and Navigator Earl Cobeil ] and Marlin Lead F105 flown solo by Bill Sparks ] were in trouble over North Viet Nam.
Both crews had now punched out in locations currently unknown.
Eight minutes later we were launched and we were directed to a holding point on the North Viet Namese border. Jolly 56 was the low bird and we were the high bird backup.
With less than 2 hours 15 minutes until sun down . . and three jocks down below the jungle canopies. Our adrenaline began . . . . pumping fast.
Shortly after lift-off, Crown 2 gave us the latitude and longitude of the rescue locations for Red Dog Lead and for Marlin Lead. They directed us to proceed to Marlin Lead's location first.
About 35 minutes later, Rescue Control Saigon directed us to swap and become primary low bird.
In an attempt to avoid successful air attack from bad guy aircraft, our flight enroute at 7,500 feet where we shouldered a nearby cloud layer
So far, the trip, was uneventful and could have been called ' textbook.' On the other hand, we were still in process of writing the textbook.
We arrived at Marlin Lead's rescue location at 1650. Sandy Lead immediately directed us in for the pickup and simultaneously radioed Marlin Lead, down there in the foliage to . . .' POP his smoke.' We spotted his smoke about halfway down a steep ridge . . about 2 ( kilometers ) klicks at one thirty. We jettisoned our external fuel tanks and headed for it.
Over the smoke, we entered a hover and I started the rescue hoist rolling and our pendulum shaped rescue penetrator slid down into the canopies of tall trees. The jungle foliage was thick. I couldn't see the ground or the survivor. All I could see was . . what looked like . . the end of a survival flare waving at me from somewhere down deep in the foliage.
Radio chatter was like nothing I had ever heard before. It seemed like every
one was on the radio screaming at once . . with radio squelch buttons at max.
Then, our confusion and pucker meters then pegged out as the radio between Jolly 37 and orbiting Sandy Lead went tits up. Sandy Lead had been trying to tell us we were on the wrong smoke. His transmissions to us were broken up and we couldn't talk to him.
Finally, our partner Jolly 56 holding high over a near-by karst rock ridge, relayed Sandy Lead's radio calls to us. So I pulled up the penetrator and we headed out over the karst ridge where Sandy Lead was orbiting near the second smoke.
We flew toward and over the second smoke. Because of the heavy foliage, we couldn't see this survivor either. After we passed over his location, he fired his pen gun flare, but it ignited behind us and we didn't see it. But when we got turned around we immediately saw two more pen gun flares as they shot up through the dense tree canopies.
About this time I briefly spotted the survivor about three quarters of the way up
a steep karst slope. Briefly, he stood up in a small four by four foot clearing, then
disappeared into the dense foliage.
Even though I could no longer see the survivor I persuaded our pilot, Captain Walker, into making a lower hover over the small clearing. Due to the steep angle of the karst slope, we had been in a very high hover, with the helicopter's rescue door facing the steep slope.
I'm thinking . . why the hell isn't this guy standing out there in that little clearing ?
" Hey ! Is this is a trap ?"
I ran the rescue penetrator down with the hoist. It kept going and going. The next thing I know . . the orange-painted cable end is showing. The final ten feet of the 250 ft cable is painted bright orange to alert the hoist operator so he doesn't allow the cable to fall off the drum. The only thing fastening the cable on the drum is a ' set ' screw.
I stopped the penetrator at what looked to be about twelve feet above the where I wanted it. But I still didn't see the survivor down below. I told our pilot Captain Walker that his tail rotor was clear and to lower the helicopter about TEN MORE FEET so the penetrator could reach the ground.
He said . .
" TAKE A LOOK . . OUT FRONT ! "
I looked out and saw our re-fueling probe was buried up to our cockpit in an enormous tree. And our rotor tips were light beating against the top of the tree.
I slowly start lowering the hoist until the cable had only one wrap left around the drum . . plus the little set screw. But the damn penetrator was still about (4) four feet above the spot. And I still didn't see the survivor.
Now I'm wondering . . is the survivor even down there any more ?
I decided to try one last move before telling Captain Walker to get us the hell out of Dodge.
I took my hand and began moving the cable to get the penetrator swinging up slope toward where I saw the survivor disappear. The penetrator swung into the foliage.
But it didn't swing back out !
After about 30 seconds I felt four sharp tugs on the cable.
Gently, I began winding the cable back in . . not knowing if the set screw would accept the survivors's weight until I could get a couple wraps of cable back on the winch.
I GOT THE TWO WRAPS !
And then I saw the survivor ! What a relief it was . . when I saw a huge handle bar mustache . . with an even bigger grin . . a man hugging the penetrator like a first and only date . . came swinging out from beneath the foliage.
When the survivor was about 50 feet below the rescue door I spotted some
' locals' [ North Vietnamese soldiers ] coming over the ridge. I told Captain Walker & quote . . " let's get the hell out of here."
We rolled left, away from the ridge . . with the survivor dangling on our 3/8'' steel cable at 300 feet going about 75 knots over the valley.
With joy and fear combined . . .
what a ride it must have been on the end of that wire !
We finally got the shaken but happy survivor inside. He just lay there on the helicopter's floor . . looking at us . . grinning at us from ear to ear.
Contributed by: Hal Vincent and Walt Quist
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Created on ... July 26, 2009