A high mountain was dangerously near and the treacherous, frozen Han River lay below. We were now rapidly losing altitude, but we thought we were returning to Kimpo until over the P. Then came the announcement that we were ditching. We were told we would hit the river at the last of six buzzes. I quickly pulled the hood of my light parka over my head and offered a quick prayer as I faced away from the momentarily expected impact.
Buzz one. Buzz two. Buzz three. Then came the crash. The other three buzzes never sounded. With the first impact, two of the second-floor sections at the rear fell, pinning down many of the beltless men who had fled there when the cylinder head crashed through the fusilage. Above me some men were dangling on their belts, the floor having fallen out from under them. The second jolt was terrific, mercilessly throwing around the rest of the unbelted men and giving all of us a bone-jarring and teeth-rattling shake-up.
This was followed by a short slide and a sudden stop. Captain Cartwright had succeeded in finding a comparatively soft spot to land. There was a mad, fighting scramble to get out of the burning plane. The danger of an explosion that would engulf jus in flame was imminent. Nearly all of the eleven exits were jammed by broken plane parts, baggage, life rafts, etcetera, so all the men started climbing toward the roof exit. I was impressed to remain behind alone. But I soon realized that, with the plane on fire, I too had to get out. Just then, I was further impressed to pull aside the curtain in the rear of the plane.
There, to my surprise, I found the floor exit wide open. I jumped. My feet struck mushy ice and I broke through to the river bottom three or four feet below.
Fortunately I had no broken bones and was soon making my icy way, along with others, to a sand bar four hundred yards distant. How we found it and got there through the broken ice was a miracle. When we did get there, it was only two or three inches above the river. It was low tide. This was very fortunate. But soon the high tide would be running, and in this area it sometimes reached a height of nineteen feet.
I was one of the two medics aboard. Neither of us had any supplies on us and nothing was saved from the plane. But we did what we could. The men who had fought their way up and out through the top exit discovered they had to jump down fifteen feet to the wing and then get off. Many were injured. Some were knocked unconscious as they struck the wing and fell into the water, where they drowned unnoticed in the darkness. The night was bitterly cold, about 10 degrees below freezing. The right wing burned fiercely, but its heat warmed no one except the dead.
The fire did help, however, in guiding in the air ambulances, which had been called just before the crash. While waiting we checked the survivors, gave what first aid we could, and decided on the evacuation order. Some of those huddled on the rapidly disappearing sandbar were safe and sound.
Others were suffering from shock.
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Some were badly burned from the fire, and others had broken bones. After fifty minutes the first helicopter arrived, cautiously feeling its way down with lights blazing. It stopped in midair, hovering a few feet over the huddled crowd. On it we sent out four or five litter cases.
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After it flew away to the st Evacuation Hospital at Ascom City, all was dark again. There was not even a flashlight in the group. Only the plane blazing out in the river enabled us to discern the shadowy frozen figures who had set out on a happy R and R tour to Japan. It was cold. Our clothes, even our shoes, froze on us.
Soon all helicopters in the area were ordered to the scene, and these aerial ambulances did a heroic rescue job. The high tide was now rolling in from the sea and the sand bar was rapidly falling beneath our feet, leaving us all standing knee-deep or more in ice water. It became apparent we could not all be flown out in time, and it was decided, after first taking the most seriously injured to the hospital, that the helicopters should just ferry us over to the riverbank three or four hundred yards away.
It was a strange scene--a flock of spinning windmills picking us up one by one or five by five or nine by nine, according to the sizes of the various machines, and depositing us on the shore. One man, in his excitement to get away from the engulfing tide, hung onto a wheel as the helicopter took off.
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We saw him hanging there and wondered. The last man ferried out had been standing in water up to his neck. It was then p.
Soon Korean farmers came from all directions. They built fires, cut off frozen shoes, and rubbed icy feet back to life. One Korean farmer used up all his winter fuel supply of wood and straw trying to keep us warm. Korean police and ROK Army ambulances also arrived and stood by. One by one we carried the non-ambulatory victims on stretchers to the ambulances or tied them to helicopters for their aerial ride to Army hospitals. The other medic had been evacuated by then, so I was the only one left.
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The wind had now risen and the weather was frigid. At all the survivors had been sent on.
My midnight medic assignment over, I stood alone by the river. All was quiet now. The muffled noises were silent. Away out on the half-frozen river lay the dying embers of our aerial chariot, its last flight over.
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One hundred and thirty-four of us, including Captain Cartwright, were still alive. But the other twenty-two lay silent around the funeral pyre, or were strewn where they fell along the cold countryside, or were being washed down the river under the ice. I was thankful that so many were safely off to warm hospitals. Never before had so many survived a Globemaster crash. I was thankful, too, for the spectacular answer to my own brief prayer and happy to have been of some help as a lone medic at midnight on the frozen Han River. As I stood there looking out over a scene strewn with broken and jagged six- and seven-foot ice chunks, I realized that it was only by a miracle that so many of my R and R companions and I had been saved.
A premature explosion of that plane, and death would have claimed all of us. At last General Gants, who had been surveying the wreck with six or eight air and medical officers, approached and asked me if all the living had been evacuated. Assured that nothing more could be done, he invited me to leave with them. We stopped and alighted a short distance away, where the ambulances were still parked and waiting. At the insistence of the ambulance corpsmen I was carried from the helicopter to the ambulance fifty yards away, even though I had spent much of the night carrying stretchers myself!
They said they didn't want to take any chances with me, the last survivor. It was two days before I could get through on the trans-Pacific telephone to my wife and parents in Stockton, California, who all the time had known I was on that very plane. I went on to Japan on the next Globemaster, to continue my R and R. We got there safely, but on the return journey, just eight minutes after we left Tachikawa on the sister ship of the one that crashed, the same inner starboard engine also blew up. As before, it quickly caught fire, and we thought we were in for another crash, and this time with no soft river to land in.
Another Han River crash victim was aboard. He went berserk, and the crew had to strap him to his seat. But the propeller did not spin off and the fire extinguishers quickly put out the fire. Our pilot made a quick turn and was soon heading downward toward those precious Tachikawa runways. There was no time for the usual slow approach, and we landed at a terrific speed.
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