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Phu Bai, Vietnam, just 60 miles south of the DMZ
Seabees of H Company, MCB-7
THE OMEN

by: Raymond Cochran
Seabees
Naval Mobil Construction Battalion Seven
attached to the 3rd Marine Division
Vietnam 1966
(© 2010)

The Omen - After serving two tours in Vietnam, I finally headed home for good. 154 Seabees in MCB-7 flew by C141 on Jan. 19, 1968 from Đà Nẵng, RVN to Davisville, R.I., via Yokota AFB, Tokyo, Japan and Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska.

c-141, 1967

After an uneventful flight on our first leg to Tokyo, we boarded another C-141 on the second leg to Anchorage. While taxiing to the runway, the pilot announced that a landing light had fallen out from the wing and that we would have to go back for repairs. After debarking the aircraft, I saw the landing light dangling by its wires from the left wing. Little did I know that the scene was an omen of events to come.

Several hours later, The AF told us that they had found many other things wrong with the plane and we would have to wait for another. About two hours later, we finally boarded our new C-141 and flew off. Everything was well for about 4 hours. Then I noticed the crew chief (an old man in his thirties) was shuttling back and forth between the only two windows on the backside of the plane. He had a plug-in halogen flashlight and was peering intently through the windows and talking to someone with his plug-in head set. His face was red and he was sweating profusely.

I said to myself that there is something terribly wrong going on. I walked over to the crew chief and asked if I could help. After two tours in Nam, I had learned to keep my cool. He in no uncertain terms told me to go back and sit down. Well I could see that this guy was visibly shaken, so I didn’t sit down. Instead, I hung back abit and watched through the window, peering over his flashlight.

I could see in the darkness at the end of the wing a stream of something lit up by the flashlight. Then the pilot announced on the speaker system that the fuel jettison valves were stuck on and he was attempting to shut them off. He also said we were at the mid-point in the flight and over the Bering Sea. I said aloud, “Oh shit”!

The crew chief and I went back and forth several times between the side windows and at each window he reported to the pilot that the valves were still open. As I was peering again over the flashlight, it seemed I couldn’t focus my eyes on the end of the wing jettison outlet. Then I took a step back and noticed it was not my eyes. The window was fogging! I stared at the window and saw a hole widening on the inner pane caused by the intense heat from the flashlight beam. I yelled, “Oh shit” again. Then I jerked the flashlight from the crew chief’s hand. He yelled something at me and pivoted around to belt me one with his fist. I yelled back “look at the window”! He turned saw the window and his face went white. The halogen flashlight had melted a hole from pinhead size to half dollar size and was starting to melt the outer pane.

After taking a moment to regain his composure, he relayed what happened to the pilot. The pilot got on the speaker system again and yelled “get your seat belts on we are diving”. Well, he did an Immelmann maneuver (a dive while reversing course). I had no idea that a C-141 was capable of doing this maneuver, especially in a 60-degree dive. We dove from 41,000 feet to 10,000 -- unbelievable!

After stabilizing at 10,000 feet (no cabin pressure needed) and on our way back to Tokyo, I asked the crew chief what would have happened if the window were pierced. He said all the passengers plus the 5-man crew would have died from explosive decompression. After that excitement, everything was normal until we neared Tokyo.      

Suddenly there was no engine roar in our ears -- it was very quiet. My buddies asked what was going on. I exclaimed, “We are out of fuel”!  For several minutes, I felt the plane descending. The C-141 glides like a rock; like all jet planes. We hit the runway hard. I could hear the screeching of the breaks from our plane. I could not hear the reverse thrusters! We had no fuel! We finally stopped and the pilot shouted on the speakers to leave the plane immediately through the back ramp. I then saw the tires were on fire from the hard braking and the plane was stopped 200 feet off the end of the runway. The fire trucks soon foamed the fire out. I could have kissed this super-pilots’ ass.

Damn, we almost died twice on this one trip after surviving Nam! Some hours later, we boarded another C-141 for the third attempt to get to Anchorage. This flight was uneventful; however, there was another problem at Elmendorf AFB. After we landed, all the Seabees were told to disembark the plane to catch buses to the chow hall. We got off the plane wearing the Nam standard light fatigue clothing plus a light jacket. There were no buses! It was January in Alaska on a windy day. We were standing on the tarmac with all the AF personal wearing fur Eskimo outfits. I walked over to the AF Sergeant and asked permission for us to re-board the plane due to our clothing. He said we could not. It violated some U.S. Customs rule. The busses would be here in a minute. Well, twenty minutes later about most of us boarded the busses for the chow hall.  The other 15 went to AF infirmary. The next day we all arrived in Davisville, R.I., however, fifteen survived Vietnam and came home to their loved ones with frostbite.

I guess the flight from Yokota AFB to Elmendorf AFB could have been worse.
Ray Cochran

PS: In 1980, the AF created the C-141A with mid-air refueling capabilities.

 

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