Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Thud Bailout

by Jim VerStreate

I was nearing the end of my Wild Weasel tour at Korat and was scheduled for my next to last mission on 12 March1972. It was to be a routine two-ship night escort for multiple TOTs involving AC-130 gunships and B-52 Arc Light bombing missions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It would include successive refueling with one of us in the target area at all times, so we would be cycling to and from the tanker separately throughout the mission. Briefing went normally. We planned to take off separately (20 minute interval) to set up the refueling stagger. After I hit the initial tanker, I would join up with lead in the target area to cover the first TOT. I had a late substitution for my Bear (F-105 EWO) due to my scheduled Bear being ill. We had TDY crew augmentation from Kadena due to a shortage of squadron manpower and my Bear would be one of them, Major ‘Pappy’ Stoll, who was on his second tour. I was happy to have his experience on board. Little did I realize how happy I would really be!

We were Alamo Flight. Lead took off with me following 20 minutes later at 0140 hours. I joined with the tanker, got my gas, and headed toward the target area. I checked in on the radio with Alamo Lead and he commented that my transmission was weak and scratchy. I acknowledged and added that my Doppler navigation system wasn’t working. We proceeded to cover the SPECTRE gunship, and then lead left for the tanker. On his return I departed for the tanker, refueled, and contacted Moonbeam, the ABCCC, to get lead’s location. I switched to tactical frequency and attempted to contact Alamo Lead. I noticed that there was no side tone accompanying the radio transmission and received no response from lead. The UHF radio had gone out and shortly thereafter the TACAN quit.

The cockpit intercom was weak and intermittent. It was obvious that I had to abort the mission, so, recalling my last TACAN position, I turned to a westerly heading to get out of bad guy country (we were over Laos) and proceeded toward Korat. Of course lead was wondering what had happened to us.

I realized that we had electrical problems, which probably could get worse. Having just come off the tanker I had a full load of fuel, so that shouldn’t be a problem. However, I soon noted that my external tanks were not feeding. I tried everything I could think of to get the electrical system back up, but to no avail.

If I wanted to be able to land I had to get rid of some weight, which meant jettisoning my non-feeding 650 gallon centerline and 450 gallon wing tank. When I punched the jettison button, nothing happened! I couldn’t get rid of the fuel tanks or the Standard ARM and Shrike missiles, no matter what I tried! That brought up two problems – I had only internal fuel available and I was too heavy to land the aircraft safely. The F-105 landing speed was normally just under 200 knots and with no flaps (electrically operated) and the external stores weight, landing speed would be excessive.

We continued to head toward Korat. Things were getting progressively worse. The visibility was terrible – typical of that time of year – very thick haze, which made ground item recognition almost impossible. Meanwhile, systems continued to drop off – lighting, instruments, and intercom – so I was left dead reckoning with the whiskey compass, airspeed, and time to try to reach home base.

During our mission briefing, we always discussed what we would do in case of emergencies. If ejection was necessary, either crewmember could initiate the sequence for both of us. It was normally understood that the pilot would initiate ejection, unless he was incapacitated. Pappy and I confirmed that with each other, since we now knew that we would not be able to land. The plan was to get to Korat, fly an electrical failure pattern, then proceed to the controlled bailout area and eject.

It seemed like a good plan; however, due to the visibility, finding Korat was going to be difficult. I was using my best estimate of mag heading, time, and distance from our initial location. When I calculated that we should be over the base and did not see any sign of base or runway lighting, I began a slow left turn to try to locate it. We were getting very low on fuel and I knew that we were close to a flameout. After about 270° of turn the engine started to sputter and we knew what to expect. The engine flamed out, it got very quiet, I told Pappy to assume the ejection position, trimmed full forward, then pulled the ejection handles to blow the canopies, then squeezed the triggers at around 8,000 feet MSL to kick us out. The time was 0448.

The ejection sequence went as advertised and I felt the chute deploy following seat separation. It was quite dark, but I could see that I had a good chute. I called out for Pappy, but got no response. Not long after the ejection, I saw the aircraft impact the ground. I started to make out the tree canopy. I didn’t deploy my seat kit, which could get hung up in the trees, and prepared for contact with them. I got through the top canopy and came to a stop with the parachute catching on the tree branches. Unfortunately, that lasted only a few seconds. I heard a limb crack and I started free falling! I couldn’t see, but I figured that I was either going to collide with other branches or freefall all the way to the ground. The latter occurred. During that fall, I screamed and my life quickly passed through my mind. I thought I was going to die!

I hit the ground and was dazed for a few seconds. When I realized that I was still alive, I tried to move my arms and legs to see if they still worked. Everything seemed fine, except I couldn’t get up. I soon discovered that I had something holding me down. I had landed in a bamboo thicket, which broke my fall, but I had been impaled through my inner right thigh by a fairly large bamboo chute. I was able to pull it out of my leg, but couldn’t see what the damage was due to the darkness. I just held my legs together to minimize blood loss and called out to Pappy.

Luckily he was in voice range, but hung up in a tree. Once it got lighter he was able to get down from the tree using the lowering lanyard we carried for that purpose in our parachutes and made his way to me. He checked me out and determined that we needed to fashion some kind of tourniquet for my leg. He came up with a novel plan. He cut open one of the ‘piddle packs’ we carried for relief on long missions and, using the sponge material inside and part of my T-shirt, made a tourniquet, which did the trick!

We tried our emergency radios, but received no response. Unbeknown to us, we had landed around 30 miles southwest of Korat, but were in hilly terrain, so had no line of sight for reception to the base. We continued to broadcast regularly for some time. There was a SAR effort ongoing for us, but in the area we were last heard from. We decided that, if Pappy could climb up in a tree, he might have a better chance at raising someone.

Finally, in mid-afternoon, a passing KC-135 out of U-Tapao heard our transmission. About an hour later the Korat HH-43 came in and retrieved Pappy from his tree perch. It couldn’t carry both of us together due to weight limitations, so had called for a CH-3 to come for me. When it arrived, a PJ came down on a tree penetrator to pull me out, but with the leg injury decided to use a litter instead. I was soon on board and on my way to the Army Hospital in Bangkok, a happy ending to a not so great day!

At the hospital they got my wound cleaned out and sutured up. Fortunately, damage was minimal because the bamboo had gone through the fleshy portion of the thigh and missed any major blood vessels. I remained there for 10 days and then air evaced stateside, eventually to the Wright-Patterson AFB Hospital. Fortunately, I had no major problems from the accident, just a couple good scars as a remembrance. I was allowed to go home to my family in New York for a 30-day convalescent leave.

The Accident Investigation Board determined that I had done everything correctly and found no pilot error. Having very little of the aircraft to recover, it was determined that the electrical failure included the battery, which prevented jettisoning the external stores.

What ended up being my last mission was not the EOT I had imagined, but was fortunate that the outcome was what it was. It could have been far worse!
[ My History ] [ Home ] [ Table Of Contents ]