It was about 3:45 a.m. on March 24, 1967, and his A-6 was maxed out carrying 15,000 pounds of bombs and 15,000 gallons of fuel. He had reached about 100 miles per hour on one of two parallel runways when he spotted the C-141 cargo plane taxiing across his runway directly in front of him.
The C-141 pilot had never been at the
The C-141 was the biggest aircraft in the Air Force arsenal at the time and Lt. Cone was about to see it up close. He pulled his power, dropped the arresting hook, blew both tires stomping on the brakes and went off the runway.
The five people in the cockpit of the C-141 didn’t see Cone’s A-6 at all. They died instantly when his aircraft hit the larger cargo plane. The A-6 went right through the cockpit. Only the loadmaster lived, having jumped from the lowered loading ramp beneath the tail section.
The impact flipped the A-6 and left Cone upside down, burning and disoriented. Only the discipline of escape training saved them that night. Luckily for them both, one the many explosions actually blew out most of the fire allowing them to escape death.
Since this was less than a month (26 days) after the February 27, 1967 rocket attack, we rolled out of bed an onto the concrete floor of the hooches. I peered up at the night sky through the screen wire of the hooch and watched large red-hot pieces of either bomb or acetylene shrapnel whip through the air making a threatening whistling sound.
“Fuck you,” was the unanimous reply, “we’re staying right here!” If rockets were not enough to keep us awake and paranoid, then this comes along!
The base came alive with emergency vehicles running toward the flight line, their lights flashing and the eerie sounds of the sirens in the darkness before dawn, but we did not move until the eruptions stopped.
That evening, I drew the lucky card. I stood guard in the base scrap metal and garbage dump, in the dark at the north end of the base, over what was left of the mishap – the huge tail section of the 141, which showed no signs of the earlier destructive explosions or resulting fire. Of course, there were piles of charred aluminum and twisted metal parts from both aircraft, but only the tail section was recognizable. Someone had to guard the mess until the final accident investigation ended.
At the time, I did not think to be scared of ghost that might still be wondering around looking for their body parts, it was the “pitter patter” of large rodent feet that kept my mind occupied and alert! These were not the average field mice, or even the large alley rats from back home, these were grotesquely sized jungle rats that would scare the hell out of any normal sized house cat!
I ran through all the batteries I had with me that night, just from frequently flicking my flashlight on and off – checking to see how close they were.
So, there I was, at the time, very “short,” just days from going home, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would be eaten alive in a dump in
Before that night, I held the majestic C-141 in high regard. I often created very good likenesses of the sleek bird using the aluminum foil I scavenged from my C-Rations, and wiled away the time admiring its beautiful lines. Some ten years later, my brother would be a loadmaster on a 141, but since that night, I can only think of the darkness, the sounds, the smells, and the insecurity of that night I spent listening to the “pitter patter” in the dump.