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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

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emain in service with Air America, but for use out of Udorn, together with some 7 UH-34s and 2 CH-47s. The number of PC-6s Porters to be used out of Vientiane was calculated to go down from 6 or 7 in April 73 to zero in June 73. 129 C-46D XW-PBW at Vientiane in the early seventies (UTD/Anthony/F9) Immediately after the Cease-Fire Agreements, a lot of business as usual was done. On 3 March 73, for example, Connie Seigrist flew C-130E “787” from Vientiane to Pakse (L-11) on what was apparently a flight for USAID, transporting things like engines and outboard motors, batteries, 3 washing machines, household furniture, a generator, and a motorcycle. Cargo manifest for C-130E “787” flight Vientiane-Pakse on 3 March 73 (in: UTD/Leary/I B9F16) 129 Letters dated 23 and 24 March 1973, sent by James Cunningham to Paul Velte, both in: UTD/CIA/B31F4. 40

On 7 March 73, to give another example, C-123K “524” carried rice from Ban Houei Sai to Luang Prabang, before it was loaded with 40 empty cargo pallets for the return trip to Ban Houei Sai, and on 30 March 73, Bell 204B N1196W carried “452 pounds of consumable cargo” to “HU” helipad north of Long Tieng. 130 When C-123K “524” disappeared enroute from Luang Prabang (L-54) to Ban Houei Sai (L-25), Laos on 7 March 73, a Search and Rescue (SAR) operation was carried out that lasted several days and involved more then 40 Air America aircraft. 131 But in spite of all those intense SAR efforts, the crew, comprising Pilot in Command James H. Ackley, First Officer Clarence N. Driver, and Air Freight Dispatchers Chudchai Chewcherngsuk, and Kenekeo Narissack, was never found. Then, on 14 March 73, the wreckage was discovered by Air America’s PC-6 N366F and Hughes 500 N354X at coordinates QB 2398. The radio messages (XOXOs) of 14 March 73 report: “Due to ground fire, both SAR aircraft departed the scene [...] Due to area insecurity and political situation, access to site not fore-seeable in immediate future. [...] Debrief of pilots of N366F and N354X indicates wreckage confined to 400 foot area at QB 2398 and destroyed by impact and fire. No apparent survivors and no parachutes sighted in area.” Probably, the aircraft, which carried 40 empty cargo pallets, was shot down over the Chinese highway, although thunderstorms, rain and strong southwest winds were reported in the area at the time of the accident. 132 Air America also operated med-evac flights after the Cease-Fire Agreements, even at darkness. During such an med-evac mission, S-58T XW-PHD suffered an engine failure in the Tha Tam Bleung (LS-72) area at coordinates TG 8528 on 3 October 73: “Aircraft was attempting Medevac at approximately 2200L to a landing zone at 6,000 feet. On final approach, which was relatively flat and was being conducted with reference to lights on the LZ, aircraft started to settle. PIC increased collective pitch but settling accelerated, wave off was then attempted to the right. Flying speed was not regained and aircraft crashed in an upright position in brush and trees approximately ½ mile from, and 1,000 feet lower than the LZ.” 133 Finally, until the very last moment, Air America helicopters carried aviation fuel to upcountry positions. 134 But already in 1973, Air America’s activities in Laos started to slow down. How fast business in Laos grew smaller and smaller after the Cease-Fire Agreements of February 1973, is best shown by the Company’s Daily Flight Schedules of Vientiane and Udorn: The Vientiane Flight Schedule for 5 May 73 still lists 28 Air America flights touching the Laotian capital that day: Nine of them were purely military: Air America C-130E “404” and C-123K 130 Accident reports for the accidents of 7 March 73 (C-123K “524”) and 30 March 73 (Bell 204B N1197W), both in: UTD/CIA/B62F2. 131 SAR missions were flown by PC-6s N365F and N367F on 7 March; C-7A “392” and “430”, DHC-6s N6868 and N389EX and Volpar N9542Z on 8 March; C-7A, DHC-6, Volpar and Hughes 500 on 9 March; C-7A “430”, DHC-6 N6868, Porters N360F and N366F, Hughes N353X and N354X and Volpar N3728G on 10 March; C- 7A “430”, DHC-6s N6868 and N389EX, Porters N360F and N366F, and Hughes N353X and N354X on 11 March; C-7As “392” and “762”, DHC-6 N6868, Porters N365F, N366F, and N392R, Hughes N353X and N354X and Volpar N9671C on 12 March; C-7As “392” and “762”, DHC-6s N6868 and N389EX, Porters N365F and N366F, and Volpar N9542Z on 13 March; Porter N366F and Hughes 500 N354X on 14 March 73 (see the XOXOs of these dates in: UTD/Hickler/B25F12). 132 XOXOs of 7 to 14 March 73, in: UTD/Hickler/B25F12; quotation taken from the XOXOs of 14 March 73; Memorial file, in: UTD/LaShomb/B16F3. 133 XOXO of 3 October 73, in: UTD/CIA/B50F5. 134 When UH-34D H-45 crash-landed at coordinates TG 6233 on 18 April 74, it had “departed LS-20A with 5 Lao passengers, 500 pounds of cargo, and 500 pounds of fuel for Tango Pad” (XOXO of 18 April 74, in: UTD/Hickler/B25F14). 41

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