EC-47 43-49771 Crashes on Takeoff November 21, 1972

EC-47 43-49771 Crashed on Takeoff November 21, 1972

Aircraft Crewmembers

Capt. Robert A. Kohn - Aircraft Commander
2nd Lt. Edgar H. Hirshouer III - Co-Pilot
1st Lt. Michael G. Danielle - Third Pilot
Lt. Col. Howe L. Vandegriff - Navigator
MSgt John W. Ryon - Radio Operator
SSgt Paul W Weyandt - Radio Operator
Sgt Thomas E. Way - Radio Operator
Sgt Charles F. Fidroeff - Radio Operator
Sgt Laurent A. Morin - Radio Operator
Sgt Clalude W. Pennell Jr. - Radio Operator

History of Flight

The flight was a normal classified combat sortie assigned to the 361st Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron on 21 November 1972. The aircraft was an EC-47, Serial Number 43-49771. The crew consisted of those above.

They met at the Tactical Unit Operations Center (TUOC) for the scheduled 0900 briefing, checked the crew information file, picked up the classified documeents kit, and proceeded in a flight line taxi to the Life Support building to pick up necessary survival gear and then to the aircraft for preflight. The copilot entered the aircraft and began the interior preflight while the aircraft commander and the third pilot began the exterior preflight inspection. No discrepancies were noted. The Aircraft Commander then put the third pilot in the left seat and the co-pilot in the right seat for engine start, taxi and runup. The Aircraft Commander stood between then and monitored checklist procedures during this period. The co-pilot gave the before takeoff briefing with the Aircraft Commander adding that if there wer and difficulties on takeoff, he would take control of the aircraft. (In Progress Report Number One 260930 Nov. 72 it was stated that "Lieutenant Hirshouer briefed takeoff procedures up to the point of takeoff and inflight emergencies at which time Captain Kohn stated that if there were any difficulties on takeoff, he would take control of the aircraft." In later testimony during the formal board proceedings Lieutenant Danielle stated that emergency procedures had, indeed, been briefed by Lt. Hirshouer and that Capt. Kohn's statement was an addition to the briefing.)

The board is now of the opinion that the procedure followed during the briefing were in accordance with the then existing policies and that the failure to designate a specific crewmember to execute a bold face item was partially the result of a defieciency in the Dash One (See section on publications and directives and Recommendations; however, it is ultimately the responsibility of the pilot in command to insure that all crewmembers are aware of their specified emergency duties (Bold Face)). In all radio calls the call sign Baron 56 was used.

Baron 56 was cleared for takeoff by the tower at Nakhon Phanom at 1044L. Scheduled takeoff time was 1035L. The co-pilot made the right seat takeoff with the aircraft commander in the left seat. Takeoff, climb out, and level off at 10,000 feet were normal and a normal, uneventful tactical mission was flown.

After the mission, the aircraft proceeded to Nakhon Phanom and entered the GCA pattern at 1700L. The weather at the base was 5,000 feet scattered, 10,000 feet scattered with winds 070 degrees variable three to seven knots. The co-pilot made two uneventful GCA precision low approaches: after the second low approach the aircraft commander took control of the aircraft and requested and received permission to enter a left-closed downwind. The VFR approach was normal and the tower cleared Baron 56 to land calling the winds at 070 degrees at seven knots. According to statements from crewmembers, the touchdown was normal with perhaps a slight bounce, but the aircraft then began a gradual movement to the left, nearly departing the runway; the aircraft commander applied high power to the left engine and the aircraft then swerved sharply to the right, departing the right hand side of the runway approximately 1800 feet from the approach end at a 45 degree angle.

Power was applied to go-around; the path of the aircraft ( ?? a few words blanked out here too ) went just to the right (north) of the 6000 feet remaining runway marker, crossed a ditch, and became airborne after the right main landing gear struck the west (far) side of the ditch embankment. After becoming airborne the aircraft cut a wire to the base perimeter lights and also contacted a tree along the west base perimeter. Apparently some damage was done to the Number One (left) propeller or engine since the third pilot, sitting in the flight engineer's seat noticed that the propeller disc was erratic instead of flat as it is normally. Also, other crewmembers thought the Number Two propeller or engine was not functioning properly, causing vibration, and noticeable slowing down. All crewmembers recall vibrating or knocking throughout the airframe at approximately this time; the aircraft was momentarily in a shallow left bank attempting to clear the trees and parallel the runway.

Approximately three fourths of the way down the runway a shallow right turn was begun and the aircraft commander, who had noted a power loss of failure of the Number Two engine ( ??several words blanked out here ) ordered the Number Two engine feathered. The aircraft was just above the trees at this point still in a shallow right turn. The navigator thinks he heard the co-pilot acknowledge the order to feather the Number Two engine. The aircraft commander then initiated the emergency procedure fo engine failure by stating "throttle - closed" ( ?? a few blanked out words here too ) and at approximately this time the third pilot states he saw the Number one propeller slow down and a blade pitch change occur. Also crewmembers agree that at this point no sound of engine power was heard from either engine. According to the third pilot, the aircraft commander told the co-pilot "you feathered the wrong one, you feathered Number One," followed shortly by "Bring it in, bring it in." Shortly after this , at 1740L, the aircraft impacted the trees and crashed.

A Memory, The Crash of Baron 56
By: the Mission Navigator, Lt. Col. Lee Vandergriff

Dear Speedy, Sept. 7, 2000

I enjoyed your phone call. Other than Tom Way, I've never talked to anyone who flew on the old EC-47.

This is the way I remember that day, Nov. 21, 1972. We had a normal briefing, preflight and takeoff. Our area was west of "Nixon's Nose"; on the border of Vietnam and southern Laos, east of the Mekong River.

It was a nonproductive flight and very boring. A gunship was giving somebody hell down low in our area and it kept the VC off the radio. We flew out our time and returned to NKP. We werenít allowed to land because a flight of several "Jolly Greens" were returning from picking up a downed airman. The rescue aircraft were always given priority. I donít remember how long we were kept waiting, about half an hour. We were getting low on fuel so we were cleared to land just before the Jolly Greens showed up. If we had been cleared to l and when we first got back to NKP we could have landed and been to the bar by the time the rescue aircraft got there. Go figure!

Now Speedy, some of my hairiest moments throughout my career were landings in the C-47. It was, as you know, a tail dragger. Most pilots, if not all, learn to fly on tricycle landing gear. It takes a very skilled pilot to land a tail dragger. Anyway, this landing was the worst Iíve ever experienced.

I got into the habit of watching my Doppler Groundspeed and Drift Meter on landings. The more drift I saw, the harder I held on to my desk. If the drift meter showed 0 degrees then the aircraft was lined up with the runway and the landing was likely to be good. If the drift was between 0 and 5 degrees the landing wasnít bad. Anything over 5 degrees, I held on tight. On this landing the meter was pegged all the way to the right. When we touched down all hell broke loose. The guys in back swayed like a field of corn in a high wind. We were all over the runway. By the time the pilot took over the controls we were pointing 90 degrees to the runway.

I'm not blaming the co-pilot. I think this was one of his first flights. Jack, the pilot, was trying to give him some training, a very normal thing to do throughout the Air Force. How are new pilots going to learn unless they are trained? Anyway the rest of the Accident Report was accurate.

After we cleared the trees I used my drift meter, the periscope poking out the bottom of the aircraft, to check the underside of the airplane and reported to the pilot that the landing gear looked O.K. I thought we were going to make our go around. Then I heard the pilotís command to feather #2. COMPLETE SILENCE!! Both engines quit. So quiet I could hear the wind noise around the aircraft. I heard the pilot say "Oh Shit" over the intercom. I hugged my desk but it didnít help. We hit right away. I think the pilot did his best to miss the trees. We crashed in a small clearing. I remember thinking "so this is how it is". My arms flew over my head and to the right. I wrapped my ribs around the drift meter. Thatís when I lost consciousness. I must have been slammed back left into the fuselage. My collarbone was shattered.

When I woke up I realized I was alive. A hot flash of relief went through my body, I was so thankful to be alive. Nobody was in sight and it seemed the dust had settled. I glanced out my window and saw the left engine was beginning to burn. The magnesium was dripping on the ground. I noticed a RO lying out under the left wing, I didnít know how he got out there. I unfastened my seat belt and stood up. The door to the cockpit was closed and I couldnít see the pilots. Then I noticed the plane was cracked wide open on the right side. Msgt Ryon, who was sitting right behind me during the flight, was laying on the ground in the crack. He was dead.

I crawled over the crack and tried to unfasten the fire extinguisher. I thought I might be able to slow down the fire. I was so weak I couldnít unfasten it. I then noticed one of the ROís was lying right outside still in his seat. He had fallen thru the door-sized crack on the right side of the plane. That must have also happened to the RO lying out under the left wing. I crawled over to him thinking I may be able to pull him away from the plane, but I couldnít budge him. The other four RO's came running back to help. They moved Msgt Ryon and the RO who was under the left wing away from the plane. They moved the RO still in his seat away and helped me away and took my boots off to immobilize me, I thought that was kinda mean. One went to check on the pilots. The third pilot had a broken leg and was helped away. The pilot was dead. The co-pilot was thrown thru one of the cockpit windows. Those are small windows and he was badly injured.

A lone fireman made it to us and got the pilot out before the aircraft was consumed by fire. A small helicopter in a small clearing about 100 yards away dropped off the fireman. I learned later that a base firetruck was almost demolished by trying to ram its way though the trees. The fireman and a Thai officer helped everybody to the small helicopter about a hundred yards away to get us back to base. It had to make more than one trip. I think I was the last one out. I'm not sure how long it took to get us all out. The sun was still shining when we crashed and it was pitch dark before we left. While we were waiting we listened to our pistol rounds popping off and watched the plane burn. I did not know at the time that some kind of fire retardant was in the fuel tanks and the plane burned slowly.

I was surprised by the base response to our crash. One fireman, bless him! No attempt to put out the fire. I remember sometime in my career watching a fire demonstration where a helicopter would drop off fire- fighters and a barrel of foam and try to control the burning aircraft. Maybe even a paramedic would come and give assistance to the injured. Not this time.

I didn't know Msgt Ryon but he seemed to be a nice man. We had talked a little during the flight. It was his orientation flight.

I knew Jack, a nickname for the pilot. He roomed across the hall from me at Ton Son Nhut before we were shipped out to NKP. My wife and daughter came to visit me at Ton Son Nhut. They liked Jack. He was quite a man. He learned a little of the Vietnam language and was studying a lot so he could go to med school after his tour. I only flew with Jack a few times. He was a good pilot and performed his duties in a very professional manner. It was an honor to serve with him and all the other who crewed the old EC-47.

On a lighter note Speedy, when we were flying to our area that day we flew in a loose formation with another EC-47 who had an area near ours. Now those ROís were a mysterious bunch. Hard working and cheerful but they must have had a secret code. They kept pulling down their flight suits and pasting their bare butts to the windows. The RO's in the other plane would answer in kind. Do you, Speedy, have any clue to this form of secret communication?

Please feel free to do what you want to with this rendition James. It did bring back some memories and made me feel better.

Lee Vandegriff

More on this one.

21 November, 72 (S/N 43-49771) Crashed while making a touch and go at NKP. 1 USAFSS, others (if any) not known. Information provided by Joe Martin May 2, 98

On 21 November 1972, Master Sergeant John W. Ryon, assigned to Detachment 3, 6994th Security Squadron, was killed when the EC-47, tail number 9771, on which he was a student radio operator went out of control while making a touch and go landing. The aircraft crashed two miles past the runway at Nakhon Phanom Airfield.

Ed. The correct full S/N is believed to be 43-49771. TEWS Kohn, Capt Robert Alan>

{Note:} John Hockemeier, provided this additional information on this loss. The Aircraft crashed during touch an go. The Co-pilot was making the approach. The Aircraft struck some structure between the runway and taxiway, bending the propeller. The Pilot took over control and told the Co-pilot to feather the engine with the bent propeller. The Co-pilot feathered the propeller on good engine!! The Aircraft went down just off base facing opposite dircetion from approach. One backender, MSgt John W. Ryon and the Pilot, Captain Robert A. Kohn, were killed.

And more on this one, from Steve Rogers who witnessed the crash.

Steve writes:
I was looking for some info on another A/C and saw info on the crash of A/C 43-49771.

I flew as a non-crewmember on that A/C the day before it crashed. I was assigned to the 56th AMS and was working on an accuracy problem with the doppler navigation system on the EC's so I flew quite a bit.

The day 771 crashed, I was on an EC that was next in line to land. I may still have the records of my flights and I will check to see what the tail number was. I saw the plane touch down, move to the right of the runway and kick up a lot of red dust. Then it took off at about 90 degrees to the runway as if to go around again but it was just over the tree tops. It looked like it was going to make it, then it did a spiral dive to the right and looked like it went straight in. I can't believe that everyone was not killed.

I saw a 20-20 or other news program a few years ago about an EC that was shot down and the crew was MIA. I think it was called "Bravo 54". I only saw the last part of it and the Call Sign really caught my attention. The crew members were reportedly taken to Russia and were listed as MIA's on the records but were redlined (removed) from the MIA list at the peace talks because the A/C went down after we had supposedly stopped the flights.

Also, I have one picture of an EC that I flew on a lot. Will try to get it to you later.

Steve Rogers E-Mail

And Still More on the Crash.
A Memory of Baron 56
By: Richard Paddock, Security Police Witness.

Another personal recollection of the Baron 56 crash.

I was a security police officer and had only been at NKP a month when November 21, 1972 rolled around. I was still feeling my way around, trying to make sense of the craziness going on at that base, including that within the security police squadron. Perhaps some of you who were there then, remember seeing an occasional sentry asleep on the flight line, or heard about our guard mounts which were so belligerent that the wing commander had an O-6 attend each one, or heard about the midnight race relations classes held for the off-going swing shifts. But I digress.

On the afternoon of November 21, The security police squadron staff was having a sawadee, a Hello & goodbye celebration, at the Thai restaurant. As someone was being introduced, I heard the Central Security Control (CSC) comm./plotter alerting us to an off baseplane crash on the radio.

The SP commander (An interim one TDY from Hickam AFB--the assigned one had been fired), I and a few others left the function and got up to speed with what was going on.

According to plan, a disaster response force would assemble and then go out as an organized unit. I asked CSC to find out from TUOC how long that would take and no one knew. Confusion seemed to reign.

While outside, we could see the smoke curling up from the crash site in the trees west of the fence line. I had been out in that area a few days before, meeting a few village chiefs with some interpreters who worked for me in my ground combat intelligence (GCI) office. I told my commander that it seemed senseless to wait for the response team to form up since the accident scene was close by, and that I could get out there and at least maybe do a little good and relay some information back.

The helicopters would probably have all the injured picked up and we could secure the scene and protect any classified information lying around until the response force arrived. He agreed. I had CSC dispatch a Thai Civilian Guard who was familiar with that area to pick me up. We went barreling out the gate and soon down a trail, stopping in a tiny village to grab the village chief who knew where to go.

Then in what seemed no time we bounced and dipped our way to the crash site. It was still daylight but dusk was setting in. I expected to find all the injured gone and just a scene to scour for classified information. Boy, was I wrong!! The Thai guard spoke no English and I Spoke no Thai. But we stopped and ran up to the scene together communicating with gestures.

It was surreal. I couldn't believe it! No rescuers had yet arrived. With darkness oncoming, and the canopy above, the flames at the aircraft highlighted several figures who appeared to be wandering, in shock, and no doubt injured, among the trees. The Thai guard started out to gather them up but I gestured to him that we needed to get to the plane and see what we could do there since it was still burning in places. Something that stuck in my mind was seeing one or more of the crew members walking about but carrying briefcases (classified information?) or satchels despite the trauma they had suffered.

We went to the front of the aircraft and saw two bodies, as I recall. This part is still hazy to me. One, I think, was in the pilot seat to my best recollection, burned beyond all recognition. Lying 10 or 15 feet in front of the nose and off slightly to the side was another crewmember. He lay on his back. He appeared to be conscious but in shock.He was moaning in agony and kept raising, bending and lowering his right leg. He could not move his arms. I motioned to my Thai partner to help me move him further away from the flames. We gingerly tried to move him but thats when to my horror, I realized that his chest must have been crushed and it looked as though his flight suit was soaked with blood.

I took off my BDU shirt and wrapped it over his chest. I remember thinking at this point that he probably was not conscious after all, but I wasn't sure. I tried to comfort him, talking to him, wiping a handerchief on his forehead, telling him help was coming, but in my own mind I was sure he was dying. I felt so helpless. I had seen helicopters over the site before leaving the base, and heard helicopters hovering for some time but I couldn't understand why no one had dropped in from the air. With all that capability (Jolly Greens and ARRS and 21st SOS) and the short distance from the base, it seemed ludicrous; unbelievable!

I stayed with the crew member there, and the Thai guard and village chief looked around the plane for more people. At some point, out of the darkness came a crewmember off of a helicopter and he had a stretcher. I told him that as far as I knew at that point the crewmember before me on the ground appeared to be the worst off and was dying. We got him on the stretcher and away from the aircraft a little more. I ask where the others were; He said to his knowledge, there were no others, that the helicopters were afraid to set down. He had no radio. He had come from a clearing a few hundred yards away. I told him we had to try and get this crewmember out first then we could come back and round up the others and assist as best we could till the disaster force arrived.

The village chief, the Thai guard, the aircrew member, and myself, picked up the stretcher and started off in the direction of the clearing. We literally ran all that distance in the dark and no one tripped or fell.

We got to a clearing and there was a helicopter overhead, still hovering. The clearing sure did seem plenty big to us for the bird to come down, but it didn't. I shined a flashlight on the stretcher and tried my best to cajole the pilot to get down and pick this injured man up. I just knew we were watching him die at our feet. It was so heart wrenching to feel so helpless. Finally I told the crewman to stay there till someone could work up the nerve to pick the two of them up. We then ran back to the scene to see what else we could do.

At that point the disaster response force arrived. I remember telling someone about what we had seen and done to that point. We were told to go back to the base and they had everything under control. We piled in our vehicle, dropped the village chief off, and went back to base. I said good bye to the Thai guard and thanked him.

I never saw the lone fireman Lee Vandergriff refers to in his account. I shared his frustration at what I thought at the time to be delay and inaction that might have saved lives. It was probably the most frustrating few hours I have spent in my life. I was emotionally drained from the experience. I stopped by the O'club to grab some food. I felt weak from hunger as I recall. I remember being wary because I didn't have my BDU shirt on, but no one said anything. It was late. The next day was back to normal. No one ever interviewed me or asked me for a statement. I don't think anyone ever reviewed the Police Blotter either.The whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth.

Richard's Email Address is: