March 19, 1970 – Misty pilot, E. Lynn Farnsworth wasn’t shot down just once. His first hit came on January 19, 1970, on his birthday (in the U.S.). The second was two months later to the day. Here’s the account of the 2nd as told by Lynn…
This story is about the second shoot down. We had flown a mission in the morning and had run low on fuel while putting in an airstrike. Because of this, we had diverted to Ubon for fuel. Operations told us to refuel and fly another mission on the way back in the afternoon. This is where the story begins.
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself” (author unknown).
The road the Gomers had built through the jungles of Laos was directly below us. This section was oriented basically north and south. It was the dry season and the road showed extensive activity. This was evident by the dust-covered trees that lined this section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We entered the area just below Delta 43. Delta points prominent geographic landmarks the aircrews used to reference themselves when talking about different sections of the Ho Chi Manh Trail. That way they could have clear voice radio transmissions with each other without compromising their position or plans to an enemy who might be listening in on their radio transmissions.). We were flying an F-100F, the two-seat model of the North American Aviation Super Sabre. Our armament consisted of two pods of 2.75-inch rockets with white phosphorus warheads (commonly referred to as “Willy Petes”) and four hundred rounds of 20-millimeter cannon shells for our two guns.
Captain Jim Daveys was in the back seat. This was just his 5th mission as a Misty FAC. I was checking him out on our area procedures and getting him familiar with the area. I entered the area at the river, heading north. As we did so I gave Hillsboro a quick call on the radio telling them we were back. Our radio had been scratchy all day long and sometimes it was difficult to understand what was being said. We’ll need to write it up in the discrepancy log when we get back to base. I armed the rockets and turned off the IFF.
Earlier that day, we had located a boat on the river and had directed two Navy A-7s against it. We had been low on fuel and hadn’t been able to check the results of their attack. I wanted to see if the boat was still there. As we passed over the spot, I rolled the aircraft on its right side, and looking straight down I could see the submerged remains of the boat.
Next, we crossed directly over Delta 43. The road at this point split into what we referred to as the “east and west bypass.” I elected to go up the east bypass. Nothing special was noted (however this area housed an NVA headquarters) but it was evident that the road was seeing an increase in traffic. We got back on the main drag at the Golf Course. There were a couple of dead trucks but nothing else was visible. The road made a ninety-degree turn to the west at the north end of the Golf Course, and in order to stay on the road, I banked and pulled hard on the stick. Another tight turn at the Boot and we continued looking for targets. This area had been target rich in vehicles and troops for the past week, but we saw nothing there today.
About 10 miles up the road from the Boot I saw a cloud of dust. This could mean only one thing, a vehicle of some kind was traveling on the road. I told Jim we had a mover. I kept my eyes on the spot where I saw the dust and pulled the aircraft up and to a steep climbing turn. I got the Super Sabre turned around and pointed at the right area. A couple of quick corrections, and then, I pushed the pickle button to fire a marking rocket. It hit very close to where I wanted it.
I dove to within 200 feet of the trees but saw nothing; off the trail and up and back around to have another look; still nothing. I knew they were there, but they were good at camouflage and were well-hidden. We had time for one more pass, and since that particular sot didn’t have any known gun sites, a third pass at low altitude wouldn’t be too risky. The visual results were still the same and reversing our original direction of travel, we pressed on back down the trail. This would take us in the general direction of our base.
We passed the Boot and the Golf Course. There was an Interdiction point (IDP) just south of the Golf Course that I wanted to look at. It was located on the west bypass of the road that came out of Delta 43. Some F-4s had bombed the IDP that morning and I wanted to see if the road was still closed. There were many known active gun sites in the immediate area so with the throttle in full military power (all the way forward without afterburner selected) I dove the airplane to pick up as much speed as I could get. The airspeed wasn’t as high as I would have liked but read 410 knots and was acceptable. Approaching the IDP I unloaded the “G” force on the aircraft and rolled into a 110-degree bank to get a good look at the bomb craters and dirt slides that still had the road blocked. Uncle Ho’s road repair crews would be busy tonight.
I rolled back to the left and started a turn to the east. As I did, the aircraft was rocked by a huge explosion. From the back seat, Jim asked, “What was that?” I plugged in the afterburner and said, “I think we have been hit”, knowing full well that is exactly what had happened. I have also continued a hard tight climbing turn to the left to get away from the area of concentrated enemy activity.
No more than 5 seconds had elapsed since the explosion when Jim said, “The fuel in the forward tank is dropping”. I looked down at the gauge and saw that there were only 1,500 pounds left. The hit must have been in the area of the tank and there had to be a massive leak to have lost 1,000 pounds in so short a time period. I pulled the throttle inboard out of afterburner to save as much fuel as possible. The engine fed from the forward fuel tank and if the flight controls would hold together we would need all the remaining fuel to get to an emergency base in Thailand or South Vietnam. Still climbing, I rolled the wings level and headed northeast in the general direction of Danang Air Base in South Vietnam.
We had turned into a big fireball arcing through the sky and our situation was rapidly deteriorating. I decided it was time to tell someone about our problems. With everything else falling apart, I hoped our weak radio didn’t pick this time to give up the ghost. I pushed the radio transmission button on the throttle and made a call on Hillsboro frequency, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Misty 50 at Delta 43! We were hit and may have to leave the aircraft!!!”
The stick started jumping around in my hand and I knew it won’t be long before I lost control of the aircraft. I said to Jim, “I’m losing the flight controls and we are going to have to get out!” I heard no reply. The airspeed was still 350 knots. I pulled back on the stick to slow down a little before we had to eject. It didn’t do any good. There was no response. The hydraulic flight controls were already dead! A light on the caution panel was flickering. It was probably the hydraulic system. I started to tighten the seat belt and helmet strap but then give up on the idea. I already had my hands full. The dying Super Sabre’s nose was dropping below the horizon and the aircraft was rolling to the right.
I pushed hard on the left rudder pedal hoping that the application of manual rudder could stop the roll; I didn’t want to eject inverted. The roll continued so I felt it was time to leave the aircraft. The only good thing so far was that all the fire was still behind the cockpit. I reached down to pull the ejection handles when I heard Hillsboro on the radio. “Misty 50, what are your intentions?” I paused long enough to reply, “We are leaving the aircraft!” Then, I started the ejection sequence. No more than 30 seconds had elapsed since we got hit.
The canopy blew off and the noise and wind were horrific. The seat hadn’t fired and I thought it had failed (there is a half-second delay between the rear seat firing and the front seat firing). Then, I’m fired out of the plane. I tumbled backward and lost my helmet. I separated from the seat. The automatic system should have opened the chute by now but it hadn’t, so I pulled the ripcord myself. I saw the parachute streaming out, then I felt a very reassuring deceleration as the chute inflated. Looking up I examined the canopy for rips or malfunctions. Seeing none I released the four risers at the back of the canopy to make it more steerable. Looking around I saw several things floating in the air (probably maps and things from the cockpit). I could hear a jet engine; it was probably our stricken Sabre. I looked but couldn’t see it, but I did see an OV-10 circling just to the north.
The pilot no doubt saw us and it was good to know that someone knew that we had gotten out of the aircraft ok. I hadn’t seen Jim yet, though I’d been looking. Finally, I looked down toward the ground and I saw his parachute. Then I saw something that filled me with dread, I saw some risers floatation out from the parachute and it made me think Jim had fallen out of the parachute to the ground. Then I realized what it really was. It was just the risers from the four-line cut. I looked around to see where I was in relation to the ground and I was shocked to see that I am between 2 roads. If I was going to have any chance for survival I needed to fly the parachute east beyond the East Bypass. My attention was drawn to a huge fireball about 3 miles to the north. The Super Sabre would fly no more. Then, I heard the explosion!
I saw no one on the ground but I knew they were there. I saw Jim hit in what appeared to be thick undergrowth (because his parachute stayed on top of the vegetation). He was too close to the road though. About 100 meters it looked like. That was bad. I now passed over the road and I’m happy about that. I was fairly close to the ground and it appeared the wind was blowing to the east. I turned the parachute into the wind to slow my landing speed. But, I moved back toward the road, so the wind must have been calm. I saw a small opening in the trees and steered the parachute toward it. I was committed to the spot when I realized it wasn’t a clearing, but a dead tree. I was going to hit one of the limbs. I kicked away from it and continue down. Now, I was certain either the chute would hang up and leave me dangling, or the chute would collapse and plunge me to the ground about 150 feet below. I felt the limbs tugging at the parachute and I braced myself for the fall to the ground.
Finally, I reached the ground and fell backward. I didn’t hit hard and nothing was broken. I got rid of the chute by pulling on the 2 quick releases. Next, I pushed the 2 quick releases for the survival kit and picked it up. I needed to get away from the parachute and find a place to hide. I had landed in a small gully. I climbed out of the gully and headed north and down a hill a little way and stop to get my breath and turn off the chute beeper. It took a few minutes to silence the beeper. It had to be turned off, or the emergency frequency would have been blocked by its continuous transmission. I now got out one of my 2 survival radios so I could make voice contact with the OV-10 I had seen on the way down.
I turned the radio on, but there was a beeper going. It was making too much noise, so I turned the radio off. Jim hadn’t turned off his parachute beeper yet. As long as the beeper was transmitting I wouldn’t be able to make voice contact. I put my radio away and put the chute beeper in my pocket. I left the parachute harness on the ground, picked up the survival kit, and moved north along the side of the hill. The trees were very large but the undergrowth on the ground wasn’t very thick. It made it hard to find a good place to hide. I moved about 50 meters and found a tree that would shield me on 2 sides. I took out a water bottle and took a drink to help calm me down. Following that, I tried the radio again. This time I heard Jim talking to the OV-10 (Covey FAC).
Jim said his legs were broken, but other than that he was OK. I waited for their conversation to terminate before I tried to make contact. “Hello Covey, Misty 50 Alpha, How do you read?” Covey said he heard me. I tell him that I am OK and ask if he has seen any activity in the area yet. He replied “Negative on the activity”. Then I asked if the Search and Rescue (SAR) was underway yet. He said that the cavalry was on the way. I told him I was going to go down on the radio and would be back later. He acknowledged and I turned the radio off. I could hear some explosions to the north and assumed it was the 20mm cooking off in the wreckage.
I stayed-put trying to figure the best course of action. Suddenly I heard automatic weapon fire coming from the area where my parachute was. My position was too exposed and I needed to find a place to hide. I felt the survival kit was too heavy and would slow me down too much, so I left it by the tree and moved north and up the hill. I tried to be as quiet as I could. Standing up, I could see about 20 meters through the trees. Finally, I saw something that looked promising, but when I got there it wasn’t as good as it first appeared. There was a log that ran up and down the hill, with some fern bushes overhanging that could be top and side cover. It wasn’t too good but was the best I had seen so far. It would have to do. I crawled in and lay down.
I got one of the radios out and give Covey a call (only the single-channel radio seemed to work, though I tried the four-channel radio several times). Covey answered and I told him what was going on. He said he’d take a look and see if he could see anything. I turned the radio off again. I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible. If I stretched all the way out my feet stuck out of the bushes so I had to lay on my side with my legs doubled up. It had been about 15 minutes since I heard gunfire.
Suddenly my heart pounded! Did I hear something? I listened! Yes! There it was again! People were whistling back and forth. That means they were coming closer and if they kept coming they would reach my position before long. I wondered if they were in the mood to take prisoners? I must decide soon whether to fight or let them take me prisoner if they should discover me. I leaned toward fighting. I had read reports of how Laotians treated prisoners. I wondered what my wife and two children were doing now; probably sleeping. I wondered how they would get along without me? I knew that once the fight started I would have very little chance against automatic weapons. I wondered what it would feel like to get shot?
Maybe Covey could help. I told him I could hear people in the vicinity of my parachute. He made some low passes but didn’t see anything. My morale was very low. I had been flying over this area for about 3 months and was very aware that there were a lot of people and guns in the area. Exactly 2 months ago I was shot down by guns in the same area.
At this point, I fully expected to either be killed or captured. It was getting late and the SAR forces had better get here pretty soon if they are going to get us out before dark. I call Covey and query him about the progress of the SAR. He said they should be on scene in about 30 minutes. I could hear another turboprop aircraft (besides the OV-10) overhead. That, no doubt is the on-scene commander in a C-130 (call sign, King). I haven’t heard any people for about 5 minutes. Maybe they had directed their search in another direction. I hoped so because the Sandy’s should be here pretty soon and maybe things will change for the better. There was an ant crawling around in the log. He was a huge fellow. I watched him for a while. Little did he realize there was a war going on around him.
The situation was still critical. It was about 1620 when we got shot down. I lost my watch during the ejection so I could only guess what time it was. But, I do know that time will be an important factor in deciding if we got out or not. I decided that if we didn’t get picked up before dark I’d have to try and make it to the hills about a mile east of my present position. It is certain the Gomers will surround me and bring-in more guns during the night. If that happened there was a good chance someone else would get shot down trying to get me out tomorrow.
My spirits suddenly picked up. I heard the sounds of a radial piston engine. That could mean only one thing! The cavalry had arrived! For the first time since we were shot down, I felt we might get out of there alive. I turned the radio on and heard a conversation between Covey and the lead rescue aircraft (A-1, call sign, Sandy). Covey was trying to direct Sandy 01 to Jim’s location. “Bravo is the easiest to locate because his parachute is on top of the underbrush. He is about 100 meters off the road.” Sandy 01 finally got a visual on the chute. He confirmed Jim was right below the chute.
Covey next tried to describe my location to Sandy 01. “Alpha is almost due north of Bravo”. Covey told him to look for a small hill. “On the hill is a small ravine on the southeast side of of the hill. Fly over the ravine and you will see a small hole in the trees. At the bottom of the hole you can see Alpha’s parachute”. It took 3 passes before Sandy 01 saw the parachute. The radio was making so much noise I was afraid the Gomers would hear it, so I told Covey I was going off the air for a while. He acknowledged. My ant friend was still on the log. There were several A-1s in the area now. I hoped they were good gunners in case they had to strafe close to my position. The Sandy’s started delivering ordinance. I jumped because I wasn’t prepared for it. They worked the area over for quite a while; some of it hit fairly close! Through the trees, I caught an occasional glimpse of an A-1 as they passed by my position during their ordinance runs. There was a lot of noise, caused by bombs, 20mm, A-1s, etc.
The noise died down quite a bit so I decided to turn the radio back on. They were starting to get ready to pick Jim up. As the Jolly Green approached Jim’s position, he suddenly started screaming over the radio that the Jolly Green is taking ground fire. That didn’t sound very good, and I wondered if the Jolly Green would pull out. He didn’t!!! There sure was a lot of shooting going on, it was a mixture of ground fire and suppressing fire from the A-1s. Finally, the A-1s got the upper hand. The first Jolly Green sent a Para-rescue Jumper (PJ) down to the ground to help Jim, because Jim couldn’t move with his broken legs.
They decided to send in the backup Jolly Green to try and get me out. Sandy 05 told me to start vectoring Jolly Green 27 toward my position as soon as I could hear the sound of the engines. I could hear the distinctive sound of a helicopter south of me. I aimed my compass at the sound. Judging from the sound, he had to come straight north to get to me. I started talking to the Jolly Green. “OK, I can hear you 27. Head 360 degrees. 360 is the heading. I can hear you getting closer. Keep coming 360.” Then I got a glimpse of him through the trees. He would pass me to the east.
“27 you are going past me to the east! Stop! You are about 100 meters to the east”! He stopped and I got a sighting with my compass! It said he should head 260 degrees to get me. He had turned his machine around and was starting to move in my direction. “I can see you 27 come on a heading 260. Keep coming 27, I can see you through the trees. You are almost here, keep coming. You are almost here. I can see your refueling probe. Another 20 meters”!
When I told him I could see his refueling probe, he stopped and started unreeling his jungle penetrator. He wasn’t quite over me but was very close. The down-wash from the rotor blades is very strong. The trees are acting as if they were in a hurricane. The penetrator would touch down about 15 meters downhill from me. I’d have to leave my hiding place to reach it. If there were any Gomers hiding close by, this no doubt, was what they had been waiting for. A hovering helicopter is an easy and tempting target.
When the Jolly Green started to hover, I started trying to put my equipment back in the vest, but, decided it would take too long. So, I gathered it up in my hands. The penetrator was almost to the ground, so with one last look around, I took a deep breath and left my place of concealment. I ran down the hill to the life-line dangling from the helicopter. I steeled myself for the feel of an enemy bullet, for I had revealed my exact location. I felt nothing, and I heard nothing but the Jolly Green. So far, so good, because I had reached the jungle penetrator alive! An hour or so ago I didn’t even expect to be alive. I needed to hurry though because even if there were no bad guys hiding close, the hovering helicopter would bring them on the run. I undid the cover that encased the seats and straps. I got a strap out and put it around me. This would ensure that I would go up with the helicopter in case he decided to pull out all of a sudden. Also, If I was hit on the way up I wouldn’t fall off the jungle penetrator. I then pulled one of the seats down and took a seat! Looking up I gave the cable several strong jerks to let the Jolly Green crew know that I was ready. They got the message and started reeling me in. I hoped I didn’t crack my head on any of the limbs. One of my radios and compass dangled below me. I didn’t stow them and they hung from lanyards attached to my survival vest.
The down-wash from the rotors causes me to start spinning. As I cleared the treetops, Jolly Green 27 started moving away from the area. I was still spinning slowly and I’d have to be careful not to crack my head on the side of the helicopter. I looked up and saw one of the crew trying to steady the cable and stop my spin. He was somewhat successful but I had to put a hand out to keep from hitting the bottom of the machine. The upward movement stopped with a jerk and I knew the cable had been completely reeled in. I didn’t attempt to get in as I would only be a hindrance. I felt someone grab me. They unreeled just enough cable to pull me inside the helicopter. I was pulled away from the door before the safety strap was released. Then I was helped to a seat. They gave me some water, asked if I was alright and did I need a blanket? I informed them that I was OK, took the water, and declined the blanket.
I was exceedingly happy that I had escaped from what, just a short time before, looked like an impossible situation. Sgt. Wetzel (the PJ) shouted something in my ear about my buddy (meaning Jim). I didn’t quite understand what he said, but it sounded like he said they couldn’t get Jim. Since I’m wasn’t sure what he said I asked him to please repeat it. He did and I understood. He said that Jim wasn’t up yet, but that there was a PJ on the ground with him.
I looked out the window and saw what looked like fog. For a moment I was confused because I knew that when we went down there were no clouds anywhere in the area and it was too warm for fog. Then I realized that it must be a smokescreen put down by A-1s. The entire area was covered except for the top of the hill where I had been hiding. It no doubt kept a lot of the Gomers from seeing anything to shoot at.
I sat back and relaxed, grateful that I had been rescued but I worried about Jim. About five minutes later Sgt. Wetzel gave me the good news – the other Jolly Green had Jim on-board. What a relief. What had started out as a routine mission had turned out to be anything but routine.
For more about Earnest Lynn Farnsworth go to https://supersabresociety.com/biography/lynn-farnsworth/
Jim Davies retired from the Air Force and became a Captain with Delta Airlines. Leukemia sent him west on 2 July 2008.