Right as we arrived at the DZ, I pulled up and dropped our cargo. AS the cargo dropped we started taking fire. We got hit pretty hard. The airplane shuddered under the fire. You could hear the shrapnel hitting the belly of the Provider. The plane kept wanting to roll right, so I hard to start the jet and get it up to 100% on that side to keep it from rolling over. .
I asked our co pilot who was a nervous newer guy to go back and see how bad the damage was. He reported back that both ailerons were in the full up position. I knew we were going to have to bail, so I headed toward this old Japanese air strip. We couldn’t land there, but it would be a safe area to bail. As I approached the field, I told my co-pilot to get ready. He went to the back of the aircraft, and as I was about ready to give the signal to jump, he wandered back to the cockpit looking for his tack vest. I was sort of startled by this and gave it to him.
Then I called the kickers on the intercom and told them that when he got back there to take that vest off of him and throw it out of the door. If he tried to put it on over the parachute, it wouldn’t open properly. The problem was as this all happened, we had over flown the base. So I had to turn around to try it again. As we lined up on the base for the second time, once again about to signal to the crew to jump, I could see something out of the corner of my eye. It was my co-pilot back in the cockpit again.
I asked him in a very matter of fact tone what he was doing back in the cockpit. He stated that he had forgotten his Nikon camera. I handed him the camera, and then punched him and he fell back out of the cockpit. By this time we had once again over flown the base, and I had to line up for a third time. This time I called the kickers again and told them to throw him out. On this attempt everyone bailed. My co-pilot wasn’t sure how to use the parachute and was trying to pull the ring the wrong way. He eventually did get it opened, but he lost some altitude first.
Now it was my turn. The plane began to come apart, and I bailed in time to watch it crash. After a short wait, a helicopter came to pick us up. Inside this helicopter was a guy who had been shot, and was throwing up between his feet. I knew how he felt. They stuck their tail rotor through some brush and peppered me with branches. We took small arms fire on the way out, and after a short hop had to crash land.
We did so and a second helicopter landed about 50 yards from us to pick us up. We couldn’t figure out why since we had a wounded man that we were lugging with us, but we made our way to the helicopter. When questioned about why they landed so far from us the pilot responded very matter in fact like, “Well you guys were in a mine field.” We had just about made it back to base in this helicopter when it ran out of gas and we had to auto rotate into trees.
As I walked into base that night, still armed with my Uzi, that case officer that sent us up there saw me coming and said that he would go for beer. We never saw him again.”
What is not known to many is that 242 people lost their lives working for Air America. To this day none of them are eligible for veteran benefits. (they were contractors for the CIA, not active duty military)