From “Happy Valley” Phan Rang AB, Vietnam…keeping the memories alive, Phan Rang AB News No. 125 “Stories worth telling”
Lucky Devils Prove Luck In Dual Bailout, Pickup
(Phan Fare, The Happy Valley Weekly, February 13, 1969)
They call themselves “Lucky Devils,” these Air Force fighter pilots of the 614th TFS Luck surely was with three Lucky Devils recently when they flew a “routine” mission against the Viet Cong.
“Our target for the day was enemy bunkers in IV Corps, about 60 miles west of Bien Hoa,” said the leader of the two-plane flight. Speaking was Major Norman H. Rushton. With him on that mission in an F-100F were Captain Gerald G. Potter, who was ‘breaking in” 1St Lt. Donald Muller, who had just arrived from the states.
“I flew the first attack pass,” Major Rushton said of his 118th combat sortie in Vietnam. Lieutenant Muller’s “F” followed Rushton as they swooped down and released their weapons.
“Then it happened,” the Lieutenant said. “The plane was ripped by a violent explosion just as we were pulling out of the dive over the target.
“Controls were shaky as the plane just about flipped over, headed for the ground. Fire warning lights lit up the cockpit, and the engine started to become unglued. Lieutenant Muller struggled at the controls to get his plane over the nearby Song Co Chien river.
“As soon as we got there, I said, ‘O.K., it’s time to go!’” he continued. “Potter ejected first blowing the cockpit canopy. With the right side of the fuselage burning quite a bit by now, I took my foot off the rudder and punched out.”
As Major Ruston circled above radioing for help, both pilots were floating to earth about one mile apart, one over land, the other over the river. Captain Potter’s chute was torn badly enough that Muller could see the torn stripes of his buddy’s chute flapping as it drifted to earth.
“When I popped the canopy”, Potter said, “I started spinning backwards. The opening shock of the parachute blossoming jolted me quite severely. It might have been then that I got this bruised nose.
“I got my bearings and looked up at my chute canopy,” said Potter who had never bailed out before. “It had big holes in it which increased my fall rate. That was all right with me as I wanted to get into the safety of the water – but fast!”
“I could see people on the shore,” Potter continued. “People were yelling and I could hear gunshots. I got rid of my mask and popped my water wings. As I splashed down, I pulled the quick release of my harness, and the chute collapsed.”
He estimated he landed about 600 to 700 feet from shore. The weather was clear, but a 25- knot surface wind made the water choppy.
Meanwhile, Muller was anxiously pulling on his parachute risers in an attempt to steer his landing toward the river, but wind currents took him inland.
“Floating down, I could see four men shooting at me with rifles,” Muller continued. How close were they? “I could see that two of them were quite old-that’s how close!
“I landed face down in the mud of that rice paddy,” Muller said with a smile. “When I got rid of my helmet and chute, I looked up and there were those four running down the part at me. I radioed Rushton where to strafe and within seconds, just as they were about to run over me, vroom! Here comes Rushton like gangbusters.”
“I couldn’t see the enemy,” Ruston explained, “but Muller kept his cool and radioed exactly where he wanted those cannon shells tossed.”
Then Muller heard the message of his radio that gave him hope: “We’re on our way,” said the voic of the flight leader. “Hold on! Stay where you are.”
The army chopper pilot was getting ground fire as it hovered in for the pick up. “Can’t see him,” the chopper pilot radioed Ruston. Making another pass, Ruston rationed the chipper to “Land on the chute. That’s where he is.” Meanwhile, Potter was bobbing in the river attempting to paddle away from shore.
“I didn’t know if the people on the each were friendlies or not,” Potter explained. “Soon an Army chopper which happened to be in the area attempted to pick me up. It had no way to do it, so it left.
“Then another Army chopper pilot brought his bird in. Keep in mind that his craft is designed for land operations. He had such fine control that be brought it right down to river level. The next thing I knew, I could feel myself being pulled aboard.
“As we took off up the river, I could see people waving to us,” Potter concluded. The two recovered pilots reunited at Can Tho. There, they boarded an Air Force C-123 and flew back home.