Shadow gunner, Al Reynolds, remembers that the incident at Chu Lai must have happened in late October or early November of 1969. He is sure that it occurred after the Saigon crash of Shadow 76. The crew that Al flew with was Major Maurice Ray and Company, who landed at Chu Lai for fuel and ammo within a few days after the accident. The old $1.19 was still sitting on the grass off the edge of the runway. Al is positive that Major George Pollack was the AC on the flight and pretty sure that SSgt John Stewart was one of the gunners on the mission.
Al Reynolds is correct that AC-119 remained a derelict beside the Chu Lai runway for several days before it was jacked up and flown to Phan Rang by way of Tuy Hoa. According to Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Chuck” James, Tuy Hoa FOL ‘A’ Flight Operations Officer at the time, the pilot crew members were aircraft commander Major George Pollock and Captain Harmon E. “Skip” Fawcett. The latter was flying in the left seat when the landing was made at Chu Lai. There was a light rain and that didn’t help with visibility outside the aircraft in the night landing. As the aircraft came in over the runway overrun, the crew noticed a slight “bump” before touching down for landing. As the aircraft slowed after landing, the left landing gear collapsed causing the aircraft to veer off toward the left and just barely off the runway. Chuck believes that it was a broken drag link on the left gear that caused the gear to collapse. There were no injuries to crewmembers in the incident. Within a few days of the incident, AC-119 gunships could no longer regenerate at Chu Lai, but could use Chu Lai as an emergency airfield.
What caused the “bump” as the aircraft came in over the overrun? It was a pile of dirt in the overrun. The left landing gear had hit the pile of dirt. Chuck states, “In Air Force operations, we were always very meticulous in keeping runway overruns sanitized so there would be little jeopardy to aircraft. Chu Lai was a U.S. Marine base and they operated at different standards, at least at that location.”
The AC-119G was ultimately jacked up and the left landing gear bolted in the down position. Major Frank Walls, maintenance officer with the 14th SOW, was the officer in charge of the recovery operation. The aircraft was flown with gear down to Tuy Hoa and then to Phan Rang. The aircraft landed at Tuy Hoa to pick up some aircraft tires, among other items. “Frank expected and needed help loading tires on the aircraft and could not seem to find anyone to help him. Frank rattled my chain since as operations officer, I was the senior officer of our flight on the ground that night. The tires were ultimately loaded and the crippled aircraft took off into the night.”
Chuck is unsure of the date of the Chu Lai accident. “I also don’t remember any action taken against George Pollock since, he was the aircraft commander. Skip Fawcett was reassigned and placed on my aircrew as co-pilot. He was a fine officer and pilot. I did not rush him to fly in the left seat until he expressed the desire to do so. Our Commander of ‘A’ Flight was Lieutenant Colonel Russ O’Connell, who ran the show at Tuy Hoa.”