The Chopper Crash

by Jerry Prater

with Louis Hoerner, Vic Castle and Cliff Veazie

MAY 26, 1967 — One of the most traumatic and horrifying events that occurred involving members of the 1st Platoon of Company A 1/8 Cav. was the chopper crash that happened at LZ Quick during the morning hours of May 26, 1967 that killed a total of seven soldiers.  This event had a direct impact on me because, upon my graduation from AIT in “Tiger Land” at Fort Polk, my orders were to report to the 4th Infantry replacement center in Pleiku.  The second day I was at the center, one member of the cadre called a meeting and advised us that a chopper had crashed and killed six members of the 1st Cavalry DivisionAs a result of that accident, four of us were selected to transfer out of the center and catch a plane to An Khê.  The four guys who were selected for transfer were Edward House, Larry Nunn, Don Schmidt and myselfAfter completing the two or three day orientation at Camp Radcliff, all four of us were assigned to the 1st Platoon of Company A, 1/8 Cav.

     
RG123S-Vietnam Photos   John Kirkwood
LZ Quick   Cây Giếp (Hill 641), the Site of LZ Quick

During the latter part of May, 1967, the 1st Platoon of Company A 1/8 Cav was a part of a multi-company operation in the area around and between LZ Uplift and LZ Quick during the latter part of May, 1967.  According to the Daily Staff Journal reports, the first elements of Company A was air lifted to LZ Ollie at 0745 hrs. on May 25, then air assaulted at 1110 hrs. and landed in an area about one klick west of LZ Quick at 1123 hrs.  The platoon, as well as other elements, went on a search and destroy mission with no incident.  All elements of Company A set up that night at coordinates BR931861, which is in the vicinity of Quang Nghiem.

All elements of Company A were to be air lifted to LZ Quick early on the morning of May 26.  LZ Quick was located on top of Hill 641, which was approximately 2,100 feet high.  The LZ was still under construction, and an area of approximately 100 square meters had been cleared.  However, a lot of that space was used for the artillery personnel and their howitzers and ordnance.   As a result, the landing area was very small and steep, and there was room enough for only one chopper to land at a time.  Most of the heavy foliage had been cleared, but a lot of tree trunks remained because the engineers didn’t have time to clear all of them at this time.

At 0625 hrs. on the morning of May 26 the first elements of Company A lifted off the ground.  This chopper picked up members of the 4th Platoon, and Louis Hoerner, SSGT James Nottage, and Eric Martin were on this flight.  The chopper hovered over LZ Quick and the soldiers jumped to the ground at 0630 hrs. with no incident.  Hoerner, who was on his first mission in Vietnam, was carrying a mortar base plate, and he sat on the plate and was wiping the sweat off his face when he got on the ground.  SSGT Nottage recognized how small and rough the landing area was and, since it did present a potential danger, he ordered Hoerner to move down the side of the hill.   

The second element was lifted off the ground at 0645 hrs.  Cliff Veazy, his buddy Allen Ruddell, Charles Allen, and Domenico Cacciola were four of the soldiers from the 1st Platoon on this flight. The third chopper lifted off the ground at 0650 hrs., and Gordon Dimmitt, one of the platoon M-60 machine gunners, Vic Castle, his assistant gunner, and other members of the 1st Platoon were on board this flight. 

The second chopper hovered over LZ Quick at 0650 hrs. and Cliff and two others jumped out on the right side.  After all the passengers had jumped from the chopper, the pilot was given the all clear and the chopper started to lift away.  However, the engine sputtered and one of the skids got caught on a cargo net.  The aircraft started falling to the right, then suddenly started falling to the left and crashed, causing a small fire that was quickly extinguished.  Allen Ruddell got as low as he could, but the blade hit him in the head and crushed his skill.  One other was decapitated, and another had his body cut in half by the blade.  William Dornbergh, the crew chief of the chopper, fell on top of one of the tree stumps and was crushed when he chopper fell on top of him.  This entire incident happened very quickly, and everybody had less than 5 seconds to react and to encompass what had just happened.

The third chopper with Gordon Dimmitt and Vic Castle on board was coming in just behind the chopper that crashed.  Vic was preparing to jump from the chopper, then he saw the left skid of the chopper in front of him get caught in the cargo net and the chopper tilt forward as it was trying to leave the LZ.  He immediately ducked back into the chopper and the pilot hastily dropped the chopper and the right skid hit the ground very hard and throwing Vic against a hard object.  As Vic was trying to get back up and exit the chopper, the left skid hit an object, throwing him out onto the ground.  He was dazed and disoriented because his head had hit solid objects twice in just a few seconds.  Additionally, his face was swollen as a result of the hard blows.

The seven soldiers who were killed as a result of the crash were:

Alan J. Ruddell
     1st Platoon of Company A
Domenico Cacciola
     1st Platoon of Company A
Charles Delmar Allen
     1st Platoon of Company A
David Ray Cushing
     Medic in the 4th Platoon of Company A
William L. Dornbergh
     Crew Chief, “C” Troop, 227th AVN
1st Lt. Edward Stephan Fisher
     Company A, unknown platoon
Loren C. Surles
     Company D

   
Sue Rice       Dick Buehler       Infantry OCS 1-66        Joe Cacciola
Alan Ruddell   Wm. Dornbergh (Center)   Lt. Edward S. Fisher Domenico Cacciola

The official accident report lists the six soldiers who were killed as passengers and Dornbergh as a crew member.  However, the only two soldiers who can definitely be identified as passengers in the fatal chopper are Cliff Veazie, who was unharmed, and Allen Ruddell, who was killed. However, it is almost certain that Charles Allen and Domenico Cacciola, both of whom were killed, were also on the chopper. David Cushing could have been on the first chopper with other members of the 4th platoon, Louis Hoerner, SSGT James Nottage and Eric Martin, and was killed because he was standing too close to the chopper landing pad.  This assumption is made because, as a general rule, all passengers on a chopper are from the same squad, and almost always from the same platoon. 1st Lt. Edward Fisher, was assigned to “A” Company, but cannot be identified regarding the platoon to which he was assigned, or the reason he was on LZ Quick at the time of the crash. It is possible he was a non-passenger who was killed because he was standing or sitting too close to the landing pad.

It is possible that Surles was a WIA from D Company who was medevaced to LZ Quick, which is located at coordinates BR933896.  D Company requested a medevac at 0635 hrs. on May 26 to extract 3 WIA’s at coordinates BR938900, which is approximately 5 klicks from LZ Quick.  All the wounds were classified as “non-critical”.  Surles could have been medevaced to LZ Quick, and could have been waiting by the helicopter landing pad to be extracted and sent to LZ English for treatment.  Therefore, it is possible that he also was a non-passenger who was killed because he was on the ground too close to the landing pad.

At 0740 hrs. an entry was made to the Daily Staff Journal that “6 WIA have been extracted from LZ Quick.”  Another entry was made at 1050 hrs. stating, “All KIA’s and WIA’s from crash site have been med-evac.”

Cliff Veazie, Vic Castle and all remaining able bodied members of the 1st Platoon left LZ Quick and started down the mountain side on the mission assigned to them for the day.  The platoon was moving very fast, even though the foliage was extremely thick, and Vic was slipping and falling.  His M-60 ammo belts snagged and broke open, the strap on his LAW was constantly getting caught in the wait-a-minute vines, and the crystal on his Elgin watch got cracked and the wrist band was hanging by one thread.  Even though he wasn’t sure he would survive the trip down the mountain side, Vic and the rest of the platoon did make it to the bottom with no further incident.  

           
Louis Hoerner   Louis Hoerner   Louis Hoerner
Louis Hoerner   James Nottage and Louis Hoerner   Hoerner with a Captured VC Flag

Louis Hoerner and all remaining able bodied members of the 4th Platoon stayed on LZ Quick and were assigned “cleanup” duties.  This involved picking up all the bodies and body pieces that could be located, and to make certain that all the body pieces were put with the correct body.  While performing the cleanup duties, Louis Hoerner discovered that the ropes on the mortar plate he carried off the chopper had been chopped off by the motor blade of the fatal chopper.  If SSGT Nottage had not ordered him down the hill, Hoerner would most likely have been the eighth fatality of the crash.  As Louis stated, that was a very traumatic and gruesome event that will stay in his memory, and something he will think about every day for the rest of his life. 


Views from LZ Quick

     
John Kirkwood   John Kirkwood
View of the Lake from LZ Quick   Looking Towards the South China Sea

LZ Quick — for the position of this LZ in relation to others, see these maps from the the “Odyssey” series: Base Map for LZ Uplift, Base Map 1 for LZ English, Base Map 3 for LZ English. This LZ was built atop Cây Giếp which on US Army maps is Hill 641. It was also known colloquially as "(Old) Baldy" and "Tiger Mountain." Its Military Grid Reference System coördinates are 49PBR9331689136 (14° 22' 00" N 109° 05' 00" E).

Pleiku — for Camp Halloway at Pleiku, see the maps, Pleiku (Camp Halloway), Indo-China Administrative Districts.

An Khê = Camp Radcliff — named for Maj. Donald G. Radcliff who had entered the country in August, 1965 in advance of the main body of the First Cavalry Division which was deploying by ship. He was killed when his chopper was shot down while supporting a Marine assault. See the Base Map for Camp Radcliff in the “Odyssey” series.

LZ Uplift — see the Base Map for LZ Uplift, Base Map for LZ Meade, in the “Odyssey” series.

Daily Staff Journal reports — for the DSJ account of this incident, see “Chronology” for 26 May 1967 with links to the actual DSJs.

LZ Ollie — see the Base Map for LZ Uplift, Base Map for LZ Meade, in the “Odyssey” series.

LZ English — for its position in relation to the other LZs mentioned, see see these maps from the the “Odyssey” series: Base Map 1 for LZ English, Base Map 3 for LZ English.

For this incident seen in its topographic context, see “22 - 26 May 1967” and “27 May 1967” in the “Odyssey” series.