The Liberty Gazette
October 8, 2019Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: When Linda and I visited Vietnam a couple of years ago, our Mekong River tour guide, Vi, explained that the area was once heavily populated by tigers. Linda asked, “Where are all the tigers now?” Vi said with a grin, “They went to the restaurants.”
Curtis Laird is back this week with more from his time in Vietnam.
Curtis: Upon arriving “in country” for my second tour, in August of 1968, I received numerous briefings and an update on the tactical situation. A few days later, I was in the cockpit getting my in-country checkout, and it felt good to be back in the air again. A few days after this, I was flying missions with a more experienced aircraft commander. One of those missions I remember well was to fly to Kontum and extract two 155mm Howitzers from a mountaintop fire base and deliver them to the Kontum airfield.
The first lift went well, and we returned to the mountaintop for our second lift. After hook-up and hover check, we transitioned out of the fire base enroute to the airfield. It was then that the #1 engine dropped completely offline. This created a situation all aviators hate to be caught up in.
We contacted Kontum and advised them of our problem, and that we would try and release our 15,000-pound load by the runway. The plan was to make a modified running landing and release right before touchdown. We went over the plan with the flight engineer and crew chief. All agreed, this was our best option. There would be no rehearsals.
Fortunately, the plan worked perfectly. After the artillery guys got their guns and left, we checked the aircraft over and determined the engine malfunction was due to a mechanical problem. Unfortunately, the needed parts would have to be flown in from Camp Hollaway in Pleiku. It was getting dark, and we were in the rainy season which meant the flight crew would have to stay overnight in the bunkers. The aircraft would be left out in the open, a prime target for the enemy.
However, there happened to be an Engineer Dump Truck Company in the area. After locating the commander and explaining our situation to him, he agreed to let us borrow seven dump trucks to surround our aircraft. We hoped the trucks would protect the helicopters from rocket and mortar fire.
After positioning the trucks, we all retired to the bunkers where we spent a restless night. There were many explosions overnight, but mostly from a distance. The maintenance crew flew in the next day with the parts, and by the time we were back up and flyable, it was already getting dark again. But we were not keen on spending another night in Kontum, John Wayne style, so we flew back to Camp Hollaway, that being the lesser risk.
Linda: Good thing the tigers were gone by then. The people there were bad enough.