Donald S. Radke, IO
17th SOS Tan Son Nhut, 1969
I was Illuminator Operator out of Tan Son Nhut, Saigon, Vietnam, 1969. And approximately New Year’s Eve, 1969, I was launched on a different crew as an IO, because we were flying CAP for the Vice-President of the United States which was in-country at that time. At that time, I was on a combat mission headed toward Cambodia and about one-half hour out, we heard a loud, popping noise in our right engine. Over our hot mics, we heard the flight engineer mention, “Everything looks OK.” The pilot says, “Press on.” Couple of minutes later, we heard a pop and bang from the right engine again. We got the response back, “Everything looks OK. Press on.” As we pressed on, I had my flashlight and I was looking at number two engine out the side window, when number two engine started to go bad, and the upper inboard PRT (Power Recovery Turbine) disintegrated, and caused a shower of sparks. At the same time, there was sparks coming out of the power section, and I notified the pilot we could possibly have a serious engine fire. He needs to shut down the engine at that time. And, as he shut the engine down, he turned around and headed back to Tan Son Nhut, and at that time, we were at 3500 feet.
Because we’d only been airborne about one-half hour, we continued to lose altitude, and as we continued to head back to our home base, we were forced to go back and forth on power to maintain altitude. And, at the same time, we were all on hot mics, and as we approached, we kept hearing the pilot and the co-pilot saying, “We’re losing altitude.” As we continued toward our home base, we heard the last call– “We’re losing altitude. We’re fixing to stall out. We’re at 1500 feet, and we’ve got 19 miles to go.” I and the gunners notified the flight crew, “We’re gonna ditch our cargo.” Then the navigator notified the base, our home station, that we were throwing our cargo out. The gunners slid all the ammo back to me, I grabbed the ammo cans, opened them and threw the ammo overboard. I notified the pilot, “I have a full load of flares on board – I need to get rid of the flares.” And he said, “Jettison the flares.” So I went back and I turned the flare launcher on, and as I armed the flare launcher, I watched for the lights to come on, and I fired all 24 flares on board, out of the flare launcher. As I looked outside, I could see all 24 flares lit, on the ground, and burning.
Shortly after that, I heard the response, “We are holding our altitude, and everything looks good.” And a short while later, the only thing I heard was the “Ekkk-ekkkk!” of the wheels as we touched on the ground, and we came to a stop. My one experience that I did sweat while I was in Vietnam.