Died in Helicopter crash 11/14/1967.
A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter UH-1E (tail number 153737) from VMO-3 was a single ship VIP flight for the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division. The official USMC history states that the aircraft crashed inverted in a flooded rice paddy and that there was still a fuel fire burning when the CO of the 4th Marines arrived in another helicopter. This party landed on a dike and walked to the crashed UH-1E. They put the fire out and had to dive under water to get the bodies out. There were six KIAs in the crash. The lost crew members included pilots CAPT Thomas A. Carter and CAPT Milton G. Kelsey, and crew chief CPL Ronald J. Phelps. The three passengers were MGEN Bruno A. Hochmuth, MAJ Robert A. Crabtree, and an unknown ARVN advisor to MGEN Hochmuth. The following is an eyewitness account of the incident from a pilot of the administrative chase helicopter: (After visiting an RVN hospital pad at Hue) the General’s party arrived back at the aircraft about 1145 and we departed north along Highway #1 toward Dong Ha, our next destination. We leveled off just underneath the overcast at approximately 1500 feet and about 90 knots airspeed. About 5 minutes after takeoff, at 1150, the UH-1E yawed slightly right and left and at the same instant exploded in mid-air. The explosion appeared to emanate from the center portion of the aircraft (engine and aft cabin area). The whole aircraft was immediately engulfed in a large fire ball and dense black smoke. The fuselage separated from the rotor, and fragments flew in all directions. The rotor appeared to remain intact and the burning fuselage fell away in a near vertical descent. Because of the dense smoke and my evasive action to fly clear of the falling debris, I was unable to observe the maneuvers of the fuselage on the way down or the impact. I transmitted the crash position and the circumstances on Guard channel and then descended to see if I could detect any survivors or assist. The fuselage was still burning though it was almost completely submerged in a flooded rice paddy. We hovered around the wreckage for 5-10 minutes but found no evidence of survivors. The crew chief spotted a hardhat about 100 meters from the fuselage and I hovered with the helicopter’s wheels in the water while he debarked and retrieved it, but he was unable to find any survivors in the vicinity. We then climbed back to altitude and transmitted our observations on guard. We remained in the area until other aircraft were dispatched to relive us on station. I observed no weapons fire at the time of the explosion, nor did I receive any fire while hovering around the crash scene.
Editor’s Note: The pilot of an escorting aircraft, Major John A Chauncey gave written testimony to investigators.