Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal A blog about photography & other musings…

Fire in Flight – Page 8.

An interesting aside that we became aware of years later is that we apparently were dragging a couple of our 20-man life rafts behind the aircraft as we flew towards Tay Ninh.  These life rafts are normally stored in 4 compartments on top of the wings, two on the left and two on the right.  They can be deployed from the flight deck in the event of a water landing.  I had always suspected that two of the life rafts had deployed when we were hit on the left wing, because of a report from Major Jerry Smith, the AC of the damaged C-130 on the ground at Katum.  We later found out that Major Smith had observed our aircraft as a burst of .50 caliber rounds hit our left wing and had radioed Hilda in Saigon that Homey 302 had errupted in a ball of fire, and that as many as two crew members had apparently bailed out of the aircraft--he said he had observed what he thought were two canopies.  These, I came to realize, were our 20-man life rafts that were apparently deployed by the .50 caliber rounds.  The life rafts are normally tethered to the aircraft with lanyards to prevent them from floating away after a ditching.  I believe that one of the lanyards broke, releasing one life raft as the other held fast; and this is the life raft that ended up alongside the wreckage, as visible in the picture below.  This photograph surfaced a few years ago when I received an e-mail from Tom Allbritton, one of the tower operators at Tay Ninh.  Tom had seen our Fire Flight at Katum web site, and very gratiously sent us the photos he had of the incident, all of which appear on these pages.

Fig. 12 - Photo by Tom Allbritton taken shortly after crash showing life raft alongside the aircraft.

Fig. 12 - Photo by Tom Allbritton taken shortly after crash showing life raft alongside the aircraft.

At the time, the only explanation I had for Major Smith's report was the possibility that the life rafts had deployed, but years later, the photos from Tom confirmed it for me.  Someone else on my crew had also said they saw the life raft sitting on the wing, but I had missed it.

Tom, who was not in the tower at the time, rushed to the burning aircraft along with another off duty tower operator, Jerry Pruitt, and, believing the crew to be still inside, attempted to open the crew entrance door, with Jerry burning himself in the process.  For their efforts to save the crew, Tom received the Army Commendation Medal, and Jerry the Soldier's Medal.

Tom also believes that he is the guy in Figure 8, on Page 6, and, although it appears he is running towards the wreckage, he says he is actually running backwards in this photo.  A spinning prop coming off an engine would definitely have been a hazard!

The crew entrance door is visible in this photo as it outlines the fire burning inside the fuselage.  The fire from the right wing has spread to the fuselage, which contained the howitzer and the flares that probably added to the inferno.

This is also a real good view of the section of aileron & flap that are missing.  It is amazing to me that the airplane could even fly with this much of the wing missing.

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