USA’s defeat in Vietnam war was rounded off with as shocking events as the entire war itself. The final evacuation by the US forces in 1975 saw a number of Huey helicopters, which were considered to be the workhorses during the Vietnam War, tipped over the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers into the South China Sea.
This wasn’t the only incident of the frenzy and chaos at the time, but arguably the sight of throwing valuable helicopters over the deck of the USS Midway was certainly the most astonishing one. The helicopters were thrown into the ocean to make room for a lightweight Cessna O-1 Bird Dog that was carrying a South Vietnamese officer and his family.
The delirium was all part of Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation ever to remove the last Americans from Saigon after a crushing defeat handed by the North Vietnamese. Their forces had started the final assault in March 1975, pushing the South Vietnamese forces back after losing Nha Trang, Xuan Loc Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Qui Nhon and Tuy Hoa, in no time. As a result, Operation Frequent Wind was called by the United States Ambassador Graham Martin.
The operation saw 81 helicopters carrying nearly 6,000 Vietnamese and 1,000 Americans to aircraft carriers offshore within the next 24 hours.
Here’s a transcript from a report by CBS during the evacuation,
“South Vietnamese pilots loaded their helicopters with their family and friends, hovering above the vessel’s deck to unload the passengers, but there was one major problem: The pilots were unfamiliar with landing their aircraft on a moving ship.
“South Vietnamese pilots just hovered long enough to unload their passengers and then headed for the side of the ship and just jumped out with their life vests to be picked up by U.S. sailors, their helicopters crashing into the seas,” reported former CBS News correspondent Ed Bradley.
One Vietnamese pilot crashed his helicopter into the side of the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, while others managed to crash land on the deck of the ship. Those that did manage to land on the vessel were pushed off by U.S. Marines and sailors to make room for the returning American choppers, filled with evacuees from Saigon.”
One particular instance of throwing a helicopter into the ocean came when the pilot of a Vietnam Air Force Cessna 0-1 threw a paper note onto the deck asking if the helicopters could be moved so his plane could land. The note read,
“Only one hour of fuel remaining. Please rescue me. Major Buang, Wife and five children.”
Captain L.C. Chambers, midway’s commanding officer, then ordered the flight deck crew to clear the deck and throw off around US$10 million worth of UH-1 Huey helicopters into the South China Sea. The operation was successful, and Major Buang managed to touch down and taxi on the deck safely. He also became the first VNAF fixed-wing pilot in history to land on a carrier deck.