Saturday, August 15, 2009

Phone Interview with Bob Davis August 15, 2009

Bob Davis was the crew’s Chief Mechanic on the Huey chopper Base Leg Crash about 1 mile outside of Ban Me Thuot. Four crewmen were on board: Bob Swenck (pilot), his co-pilot, Kline (gunner) and Bob Davis (mechanic). A severe engine compression stall occurred when chopper was 300ft above ground. Swenck could not establish auto-rotation, so chopper landed on right skid, the skid failed, and the chopper fell over on its side. Rotors hit the ground, and the chopper burst into flames. Davis was trapped inside, the door overhang metal had pushed onto his helmet, smashing it onto his head just below his ears and he was stuck, unable to get his head out of the helmet. 12,000 rounds of ammo was stored in cans right next to 240 gallons of JP jet fuel, near Davis. (The Hueys had jet engines which were very susceptible to debris getting into the engines.) 8 choppers had been lifting off at the time, (4 Army and 4 Air Force) and all returned to location to help downed chopper. Pilots had to stay with running choppers, so 3 or 4 men from each chopper ran toward the one down, a total of around 12-15 men. Swenck initiated and organized the rescue. The men attempted to lift the chopper, but their first attempt failed. Upon second attempt, as Terry Curry climbed inside to release Davis’ gunner belt and helmet, they were able to lift the debris just enough to free him. As Curry was cutting his belt, ammo was already starting to pop off. Curry got Davis out from under door metal and through overhead green window above pilot seat and dragged Davis across ground to safety. 15-20 seconds later the whole wreck blew up sky high. All men were running as fast as they could away from the burning chopper. The only injury was gunner Kline who got some shrapnel in his leg. He was sent home and was not heard from again.
Davis spent the night in the hospital, on a cot with one blanket. The hospital was underground, and he saw one doctor all night long as he lay there. Some crew members came next day to take him back to base location. Alphonso (R.T.), Davis’ good friend, came up to him and with a mock sad face said, “I screwed up. I could have used my safety saw to cut your head off and save your body!” Davis did not fly any more missions after that, staying on ground duty. When I asked him if he was hurt at all, he said, “I hurt my pride and got a couple of marks on my neck where the ballistic helmet pinched it.” And then he said, “Vietnam was the highlight of my life, but I never talked about it until recently.” He also told me “Your dad was one of the finest pilots I ever flew with, in over 200 missions. When you looked at the flight manifest and saw his name, you knew you were with one of the best.” Swenck received an Airman’s Medal for Valor for his actions that day.

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