Friday, November 30, 2007

Why I Hate Flying

In my previous post, I mentioned my flight from Vietnam to the Philippines had a few problems. Two of the engines were overheating so they shut them down when we were at altitude. They had all four engines running for takeoff and landing.

My flight to Vietnam went from San Fransisco to Tokyo on the first leg. It was via TWA and was uneventful. The flight was a combination of military and civilians. After a layover of a few hours in Tokyo to refuel, we continued on to Okinawa and it was now all military. About a quarter of the way to Okinawa, the pilot announced that there was a slight problem with the plane and we would be going back to Japan.

Of course, we all cheered that announcement. It was the sight of the co-pilot walking down the isle and opening a little door in the floor. Now they had our attention. The co-pilot opened the door and went down into the belly of the plane. This caused us to wonder what the problem was and how severe.

There were a couple of military pilots among the passengers and they were the only ones that really knew how bad the problem was. They knew that because of the method the pilot was using to turn the plane around. He was adjusting the engine speed on each side causing a slow turn. The reason the co-pilot went into the belly of the plane was to hand crank the wheels into a down position. The Flight Attendants (we called them Stewardesses back then) had everyone get into the emergency landing position with our heads on a pillow on our knees. I still peeked out the window on landing and saw all these emergency vehicles lined up along the runway. When the pilot reversed the engines, the wings caught on fire because he had dumped fuel over the ocean earlier. It turns out that the plane had lost hydraulics. This is not a good thing. At least we had to stay in Japan an extra 18 or so hours until another plane was brought in to take us on the rest of our trip.

Another problem I encountered while flying was out of Camp Lejeune. It was a small twin-engine airline (DC-9 or something like that) and as the plane prepared for leaving the gate, the cabin filled with smoke and we evacuated the plane. After an hours wait, they fixed the problem and we got back on that same plane. My confidence was greatly diminished.

The worst problem was while in Vietnam. This occurred while on my second tour (as I call it) and was about the middle of March 1968. I was ordered from Gia Le to be reevaluated at the hospital in Da Nang. The Marine Corps wanted to make sure I was okay for duty in the bush. Of course, the doctors in Da Nang could not figure out why I was sent back to Nam with my type of injury. They put me on limited duty at that point and said I could not leave the base. I could work at a Medical Clinic on base only. That was fine with me. However, going back to my base from Da Nang, I boarded a twin-engine plane they referred to as the Caribou. It had a high tail and the back dropped down to load cargo.

I was used to taking off in C-130’s from Dong Ha, accelerating, and climbing very quickly. We were in a slow assent from the end of the runway when we were hit by 50-caliber fire. The left engine shut down instantly which throw us into a left turn because the right engine was still on full power. In a matter of seconds, we had changed direction and just missed the top of the hills as we were coming down. The pilot got control of the plane and we came in wheels up onto the runway that we just left. Remember that back door I mentioned earlier on the Caribou? It was still down in the open position and as soon as the plane slowed down enough, we were out that door and off the runway.

Now do you know why I hate flying?

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