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Helicopter shoot-down war’s deadliest hostile crash

Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.


Events at LZ Judy (landing zone. Usually a hot spot), on Aug. 26, 1970, are forgotten but by a few. Yet, that’s the day 31 men died when their Chinook (Double prop helicopter) was officially hit by RPG (rocket propelled grenade) just shy of landing.

For Eric Reese, Aug. 26, 1970, began like most days in Vietnam at “0-dark-thirty. Flying with the 178th Assault Support Helicopter Company (ASHC), Reese was the pilot of a CH-47 Chinook. Don Yord was the aircraft commander and co-pilot, and Joey Yord, Jim Tiffany and Jim McCracken filled out the crew,” he said. “As part of Operation Elk Loose, they were extracting elements of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB) from Kham Duc and transporting them 19 miles to LZ Judy. On its last flight out of Kham Duc, the Chinook had a full load of troops, ammo cans and 84mm white phosphorus rounds. With 25 grunts of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 196th LIB, Americal Division and two artillerymen from A Btry, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery, on board, Reese remembers that final trip to LZ Judy as “routine.”

As we closed on LZ Judy, we were informed by the mission commander we were number seven for landing. It was like a major U.S. airport. We were actually in a holding pattern. After watching the other six Chinooks land and discharge their troops and cargo, Reese’s crew was cleared to land.

“About 200 yards out with approximately 150 feet of altitude, I heard a loud bang in the back of the aircraft,” Reese said. “I was astonished to see the master caution light on as well as what appeared to be the majority, of the caution panel lit up like a Christmas tree.” He said the aircraft was quickly losing altitude and started to turn to the right. He could see they were going right into the trees.

“I locked my harness and watched fascinated as the aircraft settled into the trees,” he said. “I remember thinking how much I would miss my wife and boys. I was knocked unconscious.” When Reese came to, he heard men moaning and the sound of crackling fire. Co-pilot Yord was dead, and Reese tried to get into the back to start pulling people out. The entry was blocked. While trying to get out of the burning Chinook, Reese lost his footing and hit the ground rolling downhill until he was stopped by two large boulders. He freed himself and started up the slope when the aircraft exploded.

“One of the front landing gears landed not 10 feet from me,” he said. “I knew the aircraft was lost. More importantly, my fellow crewmen and troops that had trusted us to get them to the LZ safely were lost.”

Reese was the sole survivor of the crash, but 31 others were killed and eight wounded, including one killed from C Company on the ground from debris. Reese thought there was one other survivor who was later flown to a hospital in Japan, but no one had ever been able to confirm this.

The final death tally broke down as follows: 18 men from Delta Company, five mortarmen from E Company, one each from A and C Companies, the two artillerymen from A Battery and four crewmen from the 178th ASHC. The soldier from Charlie Company was killed on the ground by a rotor blade. The men ranged in age from 18 (three of the total) to 42.

They were half volunteer and half draftee. Retired Lt Col Rick Carver, then commander of the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 196th LIB, was flying in a light observation helicopter not far behind Reese. While he never observed any enemy fire, he did see the Chinook go down. He said he was “following close enough to hear and see us.”

In his report of Sept. 1, 1970, that the CH-47 “received enemy fire” while approaching LZ Judy. “I don’t know the exact truth of what brought us down,” Reese said. “I only know that it did.”

Greg Silva was in the Americal Division Tactical Operations Center when the crash occurred but did attend the Chinook crash briefing. He said there was much speculation as to the cause.

“The truth is, there is no definitive evidence one way or the other as to the cause of the crash,” Silva said. “As with nearly all events, many eyewitnesses see things differently.”

One person from the Headquarters Company, an eyewitness, said, “I was filling sandbags and I saw a RPG hit the right aft engine, causing the aircraft to instantly lose power and drop.” As another commander was overseeing the withdrawal of the security outposts at Kham Duc that day. Once everyone had been airlifted out, he said he made one more pass over Kham Duc to make sure that the demolition guys had done their job. “We were inbound for LZ Judy when I received a call that a CH-47 had crashed and that the LZ was closed,” he said. “We diverted to LZ Mary Ann, and I rejoined the battalion the next morning.”

While he did not see the chopper hit the ground, the information he received, as well as a later visit to the crash site, led him to believe it was enemy gunfire that brought it down. Indeed, despite the official findings, many eyewitnesses insist it was an AK-47 (North Vietnamese rifle) rifle fire that caused the crash. The 178th ASHC (call sign Boxcars) commander was flying in a Huey (single propelled helicopter) command and control ship a few minutes from the landing zone when the crash occurred. He also did not see the crash occur but thought it was likely by a short burst from an AK-47. He tells of losing an aircraft at LZ Siberia on Feb. 6, 1971.

Unlike the crash at LZ Judy, he was able to retrieve many of the parts for evaluation. Sometimes the cause is not always apparent to the observer. Another soldier said he was in a hole next to the helipad when the Chinook come around the hill on its approach. He said what he saw was a small burst of AK fire, less than a full magazine. He said that he and others ran down the hill and found that Reese survived.

Another soldier that witnessed it summed it up and said, “the bird was raked with a burst of AK-47 fire followed by an RPG round that struck it on the side, next to the rear engine. The secondary explosions from the ordinance carried on board is what brought her down.

No matter the cause, the men who lost their lives are not forgotten by those who were there. A member of E Company attached to Delta, said, “I know I’ll never forget that day and the friends that I lost. The day we hauled the body bags back up the hill was not a good one, either. With each bag we passed up the hill, you could see it in everyone’s eyes {that they were} wondering which friend this one was.”

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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,

1st Cav / 9th Infantry


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