WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING THAT DAY? (Bob Peck)
This could be classified
as what the hell were you thinking that day? It
occurred while working as a Prairie Fire FAC for CCN on 14 January 1969. The
team was out of Hue Phui Bai and had been in the field out in Laos for about
four days. I had been working Prairie Fire ever since the bombing halt in
NVN and was fairly experienced being both an IP and a maintenance test pilot.
While VRing in my trusty O-2, I received a call from the team that they were
declaring a Prairie Fire Emergency and needed an immediate extract. They were
in a running fire fight against an estimated 200 NVA regulars. After
receiving their coordinates, I headed for their location at our top speed of
100 kts with full pods. Unfortunately their was a cloud cover over their
location with 5000' tops. They estimated that the ceiling over them at 500 to
1000 feet. I backed off about 3 klicks and found a sucker hole and went
beneath the clouds. I found them at the end of a valley about three miles
long and two miles wide. The terrain rose to about 3500 feet around them and
the base of the clouds was about 3000'. There was a lot of shooting going on
and my presence drew fire from the team to me, so I climbed back on top to
see what assets were available.
Phu Bai launched two slicks and two Huey gunships, all that was available.
Hillsboro told me no A-1s were available and the only thing they had was a
flight of Navy A-4s with nape and CBUs which could not support their original
target due to clouds. I told them to send them over and gave them a cut off
Channel 66. Now my sucker hole had closed and things were going more sour by
the minute. At this time I decided to try one of the more stupid stunts of
my tour. The A-4s showed about the same time as the choppers and I briefed
them on the situation. The A-4s had just tanked and had about 45 minutes of
playtime. The choppers had about the same. The Army pilots were VFR only
but they could fly great formation. They agreed to go into the clouds on my
wing to get under the stuff. The Navy said nothing, but agreed to hold until
I came back up.
I put two copters on each wing and down we went based on a Tacan cut. We
broke our easily and I stationed them at the far end of the valley and told
them to wait. Up I went and explained in great detail to the A-4s I would
like them to do the same thing, but once in the valley continue to the end
and drop everything beyond the smoke the team would throw out. The agreed to
try one time but said they could only get down to about 140 kts with
everything hanging. I told them I would climb to about 6000' and come down
as fast as possible and they could join on me for the short trip through the
clouds. I explained that they must go max power upon release and pull up
immediately or risk becoming part of the terrain.
I got up to about 5500' and pushed the nose of my trusty push-pull over and
gained speed. As I was about to go down, I thought this is one of the
dumbest things you have ever done and the chance of succeeding is about 1 in
5000. But being young and thinking impervious to failure, I started down.
The A-4s joined two on each wing in a tremendous show of faith on their
part. I was working two radios simultaneously, UHF for the fighters and FM
for the team and the helicopters. I told the team to pop smoke as we entered
the clouds. We broke out near the opposite end of the valley and the
fighters left me to to their thing. I called the helicopters and we started
in. The fighters dropped everything and there was a great deal of fire and
smoke as they popped into the clouds. The team broke into the open and one
slick dropped in for the pickup. The gunships fired all their rockets and
hosed every area with their machine guns. I fired all my Willy Petes into
the bad guy positions to further confuse them. We got back above the clouds
and the fighters were in an orbit about 15000'. I thanked them profusely,
and got all their particulars so the SF types could thank them properly.
All team members survived although two were badly wounded. One helicopter
took on AK round with no damage. We all took a chance, but we saved the
lives of five people. As I look back on that day, it may have been the
biggest chance I ever took, but I'm not sure. In that business, there were
a lot of days like that and at that time I just assumed it was another day in
The 0-2 worked well for the Prairie Fire mission and I flew that mission for
about 6 months. Although I flew 144 missions in NVN prior to that, I always
felt we were too slow for FACing up North.