Shoot-Down at Katum Special Forces Camp (ODA-322)
Northern Tay Ninh Province
C-130B, 61-0965*
Aircraft TDY from 772d TAS, Clark AFB*
23 June 1969
Reg Manning
Command Sergeant Major (Ret)
(part 1 of 2 parts)

The Katum (A-322) Special Forces Camp was opened officially on 21 February 1968 in northern Tay Ninh Province. It was a border surveillance camp located just slightly more than 4 kilometers south of the Cambodian border in War Zone C. All resupply was by air onto the 2900-foot North-South runway which had been built on top of an old unused road. Or by Huey helicopters onto the pad within the West starpoint inside the camp or by Chinook helicopters onto the chopper pad just East of the runway.

Katum had long had a reputation as a "hot trip" for the Air Force crews making resupply runs from Bien Hoa or Tan Son Nhut. Every fixed wing aircraft or helicopter which landed could count on being mortared while on the ground or at any time during the landing and take off. Additionally, there was at least one crew-served weapon located to fire on approaching and departing aircraft. All approaches were from the south and departures were also to the south. Nobody flew north of the camp except the F-4s, B-52s, Cobras, and MEDEVAC Hueys. Too many bad guys with guns up there.

Staff Sergeant (E-6) John Campbell (Junior Commo Man) and I (Senior Medic) had been out on a 5 day sweep straight north from Katum up to the Cambodian border, then turned East along the border for about 4 clicks. We had a 40-man Combat Recon Platoon (some of our better troops) and had had a relatively quiet time on this excursion.

On day five, we had started back sort of Southwesterly in the general direction of Katum. Just taking it slow and easy because we didnt want to enter the camp confines until after dark anyhow. That way, the bad guys perched up in the trees with the glasses wouldnt know if we were back inside or still out roaming around out to the Northeast.

About 2.5 clicks Northeast of Katum, we pulled up in a real thick place to eat the absolute last of our rations at about noontime. Then, the CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) have to take pak-time. Everybody takes a nap. The good guys. . the bad guys, everybody. The whole war comes to a screeching halt for pak-time.

So, wed eaten whatever was left for lunch and I had leaned back against a tree to cool it for awhile when I heard my PRC-25 radio go off with one of our ALLEN FACs in his O-1E announcing "C-130 coming into Katum on fire". I grabbed up rifle and radio and stepped out of the thick stuff so I could see. I could hear the C-130 Southeast of me and approaching but couldnt see it yet for the trees being in the way.

I moved about 15 meters further to get out from under some stuff and then could see the airplane flying South to North just to the East of where we were on the ground. When I first located him, he appeared to be less than a mile away to the South crossing across my front as I faced to the East. Id guess that he was somewhere around 1500 feet AGL, had the rear ramp down, the nose trimmed way up, was flying very slowly, and had fire streaming off the back of the right wing way back past the tail. The fire would sort of blossom and die, blossom and die.

When he was at a point due East of us (John had joined me by that time), we saw the nose pitch up sharply and all forward motion stopped. The right wing dropped followed by the nose. Big increase in engine noise. It entered a relatively flat spin with the right wing still tilted lower than the left with the nose down about 15 to 20 degrees. It made two complete 360 degree spins before it went into the trees with the nose pointed along the line of the original heading.

Did you ever run over a beer can in the Club parking lot? Thats the exact sound that it made when it hit the ground. Of course, there was a thump which we felt and heard. Followed almost immediately by a billowing cloud of black smoke going straight up.

One point I should make here. The aircraft was carrying 3 speed pallets of 105mm HE ammunition.

As we watched the aircraft spin down, we both saw something fly off (or out of) the aircraft. To this day I believe that it was the Loadmaster being pitched out the rear ramp by centrifugal force.

The ramp was down and the nose was pitched up. Its my opinion that they were attempting to jettison their load of ammo. I also firmly believe that when the pallets were rolled to the rear of the aircraft to push them out, the Center of Gravity shifted aft. That caused the nose to pitch up and stall the airplane. And when it started going around and around, the Loadmaster (who probably would have been the one cutting the tie-down chains loose and jettisoning the cargo) just got spun out the ramp door.

I started yelling at my troops to get them up and organized so we could start back toward the crash. We got organized and started back up the same trail we had just broken through the brush earlier except, now, we were going back in the opposite direction.

We had been holed up in tall trees but had to cross about 250 meters of chest-high brush to get to the next bunch of tall trees where the C-130 had impacted.

By this time, ALLEN is orbiting over us and the crash, were strung out in the weeds and brush moving back to the Northeast, more airplanes are responding to the ELT beacon (Emergency Locator Transmitter on 121.5) and to the column of smoke that was up to Lord knows what altitude by that time.

We had been moving for less than ten minutes when ALLEN reports to me that one of the helicopters which had arrived had reported "a column of about 40 people approaching the crash from the Northeast and that the point man had what appears to be a machine gun".

Whoa! I looked up ahead and saw that our point man was carrying an M-60 machine gun so there followed several exchanges attempting to determine whether the "40-man column" was approaching from the Northeast or towards the Northeast. Finally, one of the OH-6s which was buzzing around made a low pass over us, I waved my hat at him, we exchanged some hand and arm signals to give him our radio operating frequency, and we got it straightened out that were the good guys and were headed Northeast.

By then, the air was really starting to get crowded. Another one of the ALLEN FACs had come over from THIEN NGON (A-323 was our sister camp on the border about 30 or 40 clicks to the West of us). Our ALLEN told us on the radio that he had put the other ALLEN to work directing traffic and keeping all the sightseers at different flight levels.

There were helicopters of every shape and size. Cobras from the 1st Cav Division AO just down to the South of us, Loaches, even a Chinook. And fixed wing! We had everything but a B-52. It was amazing to look up and see all the stuff orbiting around up there. I guess you could see the smoke all the way back to Bien Hoa and Saigon because it was going just about absolutely straight up for forever.

I already knew what was going to happen with all the FACs and fighters. Everybody in the world is here now when we dont especially need them. And when we really do need some help, everybody will be out of gas and gone home. And thats what happened later . Everybody left at about the same time.

So, were moving and talking to ALLEN and hes saying that the crash is just inside the next bunch of big trees. Wed just about figured that out because we could now see the fire through and above the trees. And, by this time, the propellant charges inside the 105 ammo are starting to cook off from the heat. When that happened, the inert projectile (no fuze) would fly in one direction and the brass shell casing would take off at high speed in the other direction. And those things were starting to pop like popcorn.

We eased on into the trees and the first sight I had of the aircraft was when I bumped into the port side elevator. It was about belt high and the entire tail was intact. In fact the whole airplane was intact except for the back being broken about two thirds of the way back from the nose. It had come straight down flat and only contacted one tree. That was with the left wing. It had bent over that 8 to 10 inch diameter tree at about a 45 degree angle and dented the leading edge of the wing..

John and I had moved to the front of the column as we approached the trees because I didnt want a possible survivor who had just lived through a plane crash to open up on my friendlies. I wanted them to see two white faces first.

When we bumped into the stabilizer, I told John to go around the left wingtip, that Id go around the right side and meet him at the right front corner of the airplane. I stepped up on the stabilizer and had taken about three steps to walk across to the other side when the whole thing blew up.

I can remember seeing my feet going through the air and the trees pointed the wrong way. It seems as though it took 20 minutes to ever hit the ground. Finally did and immediately gathered up my rifle and radio bearer and got us behind a BIG tree. Hed taken the same ride I had and didnt seem too anxious to expose any skin at all anymore.

I hollered at John to see if he was OK. Hed almost reached the left wingtip when it blew and he, too, had hunkered down behind a tree. I told him to stay there til things quieted down a bit.

Radio Toter and I are about 10 feet directly behind the rudder which was still sticking almost straight up. Brass casings are flying, projectiles are thumping our tree and knocking really big limbs down off the trees around the crash. I have no idea where my little people are with the one exception of the radioman.

By this time, Id guess that maybe twenty minutes had elapsed since we had heard ALLENs first call of "C-130 on fire".

Were hunkered down behind our tree, John is behind his tree, and all the booming and banging in the world is going on the other side of the tree.

Our ALLEN comes up on the radio and asks if we can "find and turn off the ELT". There followed a long conversation about what it was and where it might be found. He said it was back by the tail somewhere and was screwing up the Guard Channel commo all over half of South Vietnam.

I asked him what the thing would look like. He had to talk to one of the (many) C-130s that were overhead by this time. He came back and told me that the ELT panel was about 2 feet by 3 feet by about 4 inches thick and would be somewhere back by the tail. I looked down at my feet and there was a Styrofoam lined panel the size and shape hed described.

I scooted down and got the thing and got back behind my tree. I read the directions on the thing and still remember that it said something about "Take the 9-volt battery from the pocket. Apply the 9-volt battery across the two terminals". Problem was that there was no 9-volt battery in the little pocket. Informed ALLEN and there was more conversation about how to turn the beacon off. Someone in one of the C-130s overhead started talking about a "thorough review of Maintenance Procedures to insure that the battery is in place on every single aircraft". We really didnt need a review of Maintenance Procedures at this particular point in time, so I made a friend for life by telling him to "hush up".

ALLEN came back and told me to shoot it. But since I didnt know where my people were, I wasnt about to shoot anything. So I decided to stab it to death. I pulled out my Buck knife and started poking holes in the Styrofoam trying to hit something vital. I poked it in one place and apparently shorted out the wires from the (unseen) internal battery and the Styrofoam started smoking and stinking and melting down. Radio toter got the big eye and was about to take off! But it stopped smoking and ALLEN told us that wed killed it.

(continued on part 2 of 2 parts)