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Air America in Laos I - The University of Texas at Dallas

Air America in Laos I - The University of Texas at Dallas

Commendation of 13 November 1972 (Air America Log, vol. VII, no. 1, 1973, p. 4) Med-evac Med-evac or Medical evacuation flights were frequent missions assigned to Air America’s helicopters, and those flights were always very dangerous, because most of the time, the landing pad was still under hostile fire. This is underlined by the commendation from the CIA 28

that the crew of Bell 204B N1196W received on 7 March 72 thru the hands of Air America’s Vice-President Clarence Abadie: “Dear Mr. Abadie, Capt. Herb Baker, First Officer A. R. Tafoya and Flight Mechanic G. M. Burch, the flight crew of Bell helicopter 96W on 23 Feb 72, deserve special commendation for their outstanding performance and dedication. This crew successfully medevac’ed several wounded men from an upcountry site despite the fact it was completely dark by the time they arrived at the pickup site. Although there were more injured than could be carried in one load, this crew volunteered to return for the remainder of the wounded and were only prevented from attempting this mission due to loss of security at the friendly position. Their willingness to respond caught the attention of the men who work daily with these outstanding airmen and sparked this expression of appreciation and recognition. Please convey our deepest gratitude to Capt. Baker and his crew for their gallantry and our respect for their professionalism.” 83 A dramatic report is preserved of the accident that occurred to UH-34D H-85 on 12 June 72: “On 12 June 1972, Air America, Inc. helicopters UH-34D, H-85 and H-86 were scheduled to medical evacuate 12 wounded personnel from UTM Grid Coordinates PB-5383. After a briefing by Customer personnel at LS-69A (Ban Xieng Lom), Laos, Captain J. E. Rausch, Jr., PIC of H-85 and Captain T. A. Richie, PIC of H-86 conducted a reconnaissance flight of the pick-up area in Air America, Inc. PC-6C, N360F. This reconnaissance flight was conducted apparently without incident and on the return to LS-69A another briefing was held. During this briefing H-85 was scheduled as the pick-up aircraft and H-86 was assigned as Search and Rescue aircraft. According to flight log records H-85 took off from LS-274 at 0805Z and picked up 8 wounded personnel at PB-5383 and transported them to LS-177 (Ban Moung), Laos as briefed. At 0835Z H-85 again took off to pick up the remaining 4 wounded at PB- 5383 however the plan was changed while the aircraft was enroute and H-85 was diverted to PB-5190 to pick up 2 seriously wounded and 4 deceased personnel. The previous day 11 June 1972 Captain Rausch and crew landed at coordinates PB-5190 without incident however before proceeding to the new landing zone, Captain Rausch checked on the landing zone tactical situation from the Customer who was riding in N360F which was near the pick-up coordinates. After receiving word that the pick-up zone was reported normal, H-85 commenced the approach. As the aircraft was touching down on the HLZ, ground fire was heard and an immediate takeoff with a departure turn to the left was executed. During the liftoff the SIC, [Second in Command, name blackened] reported he heard continuous ground fire and after traversing an undetermined distance the SIC reported he heard plexiglass break on the right side of the cockpit and saw Captain Rausch’s neck bend down. At this time [name blackened] stated he immediately took the controls and observed that Captain Rausch’s shoulder harness was not locked. Fearing that the PIC might slump over and restrict the cyclic control, [name blackened] reported he reached across the center instrument pedestal and locked the initial reel lock on Captain Rausch’s shoulder harness and also pushed the cyclic control forward to gain airspeed and commenced turning left and right for he could still hear small arms fire and felt H-85 was still being shot at. During this time Flight Mechanic [name blackened] thought both pilots had been hit and attempted to get on the controls. Once he was aware that the SIC was not hit he released the controls and suggested the SIC transmit a “May Day” distress call which the SIC complied with. The initial reported intent of [name blackened] was to land at LS-147 which was the closest landing zone but enroute he decided to land at LS-177 because he had previously dropped wounded personnel there and was aware of the security situation. Upon landing at LS-177 Captain Rausch was pronounced dead by Company personnel and Flight Mechanic S. G. Sickler from H-86 and other personnel transported Captain Rausch’s body from H-85 and loaded it aboard PC-6C, N360F for further transport to LS-274. On arrival at LS-274 Captain Rausch was examined and pronounced 83 See the commendation at http://www.foia.cia.gov/AirAmerica/C05266403.pdf . 29

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