By David Freeman
Early on the morning of December 3, 1971, Paddy Control contacted Dustoff Operations with an emergency scramble mission. A Navy Seawolf helicopter had just given a mayday call near Tra Vinh, indicating he had been hit by enemy fire and was going down. We scrambled immediately, and Paddy vectored us to the coordinates where he'd last seen the Seawolf on radar. It took us approximately fifteen minutes to get there. That fifteen minutes probably seemed like two hours to the Seawolf crew, but we were asking of the 'H' model Huey all she could give us without busting airspeed and torque redlines.
We didn't know if anybody was alive and had no information about the tactical situation. We started a search pattern, flying north to south with all eyes searching the ground for a bent chopper or some sign of a signal from the Seawolf crew.
Within just a couple of minutes, the crew chief spotted the wreckage and pointed it out to us. The chopper was in an open area, easily visible and with plenty of room beside it for us to land. It looked like the pilot had managed to get the bird on the ground with little external damage. The location was bad, however, from a tactical perspective. The crew was in an open area, difficult to defend and with little cover.
We made a low pass over the downed bird and saw four guys. They were huddled next to the chopper and holding off a squad of VC with their personal weapons. Their Mike Model Huey had a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in it, but it was facing the wrong way. They couldn't swing it around and use it for defense.
As we pulled up from that low pass, we got a call on UHF from another Seawolf chopper who had also responded to the emergency call. The pilot told us he was less than five minutes away and would give us gun cover while we made the pickup. We told him the gun cover would be appreciated, but five minutes might seem like a long time to those guys on the ground. The Seawolf rogered that and told us he would make it in three.
Meanwhile, we decided on what appeared to be the best plan of action. We came in facing the enemy location and using the downed aircraft for cover. We were able to land within twenty to twenty-five yards of where the crew was making their stand. They started running toward our helicopter and all hell broke loose. At first we thought it was the VC laying it on with a B-40 or something. Then we saw the other Seawolf swoop low overhead, guns and rockets blazing. I don't know what all kinds of armament that Seawolf chopper had, but it looked like it was shaking to pieces while it was firing. For a few seconds there wasn't anybody on the ground shooting at anybody. The VC were all trying to dig as deep into the earth as they could.
The crew from the downed chopper scrambled on board and we got out of there, going back out the way we came in. We made it without taking any hits ourselves. Back at Binh Thuy, the Seawolf crew insisted on buying us drinks as soon as we got off duty. I wish I had gotten their names.