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F-4D Floatplane

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F-4D Floatplane

F4D Float-Plane as told to Norman Malayney, 12th TFW, Cam Ranh Bay

 A Phantom from DaNang crashed into the bay on approach to Cam Ranh Air Base (CRAB). The monsoon season weathered in I Corps, the northern operating area, preventing further tactical flight operations. DaNang called Headquarters 7th Air Force (HQ 7th AF) for any available missions down south and soon after received target coordinates. Two Phantoms (F-4Ds) were dispatched, but to their dismay, the crews found poor weather in the target area. This required performing practice runs approaching the objective in very poor flight conditions with low clouds and visibility before releasing their ordnance. This safety requirement consumed precious fuel.

Upon completing the mission, both jets were vectored to CRAB. The tower reported a 10/10ths low cloud ceiling (full overcast) with reduced forward visibility and severe thunderstorm activity. [Not a good time to be airborne.] Knowing the surrounding mountains were hidden in clouds further increased the crews’ apprehension while descending via ground controlled approach (GCA) to Cam Ranh. A GCA is used in inclement weather to guide an aircraft to the runway (usually about 100 feet above the ground and one-quarter mile from the end of the runway). The ground controlled monitors two radar scopes, one providing glide slope information and the other azimuth or left/right information. The lead Phantom landed safely and radioed a warning to be vigilant of surrounding mountains. On the approach for number 2, GCA guided the pilot too far right of the main runway. He executed a missed approach, climbing and obtaining directions for another approach attempt.

 Lightning flashes created static that interfered with normal GCA communications and VOR and TACAN navigation aids. Without these navigation resources the aircrew was unable to precisely monitor their position relative to the mountains and air base. During the second approach attempt, the Phantom encountered a wall of torrential rain that obscured all visual references, but the pilot continued flying on instruments relying on the erratic GCA. He continued his descent hoping eventually to emerge from the massive downpour. Then, without any prior warning the instruments froze—they failed to provide any information concerning airspeed, altitude, attitude, and rate of descent along with losing communications with all ground stations. In other words – he experienced complete electrical failure while in, shall we say, “weather even ducks won’t fly in.”

The pilot prepared to apply full-power for another missed approach when the aircraft impacted the bay and pan-caked several times before coming to rest on the water. The under-wing fuel tanks acted as pontoons and kept the jet afloat. A quick cockpit survey revealed oil on the cabin floor. The pilot removed both his lap belt and parachute harness then attempted to exit the cockpit. This proved difficult in the pelting rain, especially with oily and slippery boots, and an aircraft bobbing in the water.

 From the aft cockpit the GIB reported severe pain from back injury incurred during the initial heavy impact on splashdown in the bay. The pilot climbed over the splinter plate to the rear and assisted his GIB from the cockpit. They both then stood on the wing while using an emergency radio to summon help. The pilot reported the Phantom floated for seven to eight minutes before slowly sinking beneath the waves, leaving both men stranded in the dark choppy water.

 According to the Detachment 8, 38th ARS (Aerial Rescue Squadron) operational diary, at 1250Z (add seven hours for local time) CRAB tower called and reported an F-4D aircraft had ditched in the Cam Ranh Bay. The Pedro alert crew ran to the HH-43B helicopter and took off at 1255Z. While proceeding south from the air base, they established radio contact with the downed aircrew, some four miles south of the runway centerline. The helicopter established visual contact in the rain when the downed crew ignited a survival flare.

The Pedro crew dropped a smoke flare upwind of the scene, executed a short pattern, and made a stable hover over the survivors. Both men had been in the water for approximately 15 minutes. The Para-rescue specialists brought the downed pilots aboard the helicopter separately with the aircraft hoist. Pedro then flew to the 12th USAF Hospital arriving at 1310Z and off loaded both crew members for medical attention.

The pilot concluded the mission should never have been flown considering the inclement weather conditions covering the I Corps area.

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