This story is unique because it is told from the viewpoint of two former Air Force pilots who were both assigned to the 56th SOW at Nahkon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand. Capt Terry Bolstad was the pilot of TS 609 "Bad News A-1H 134609 assigned to the 22nd SOS, Zorros. The other pilot was Bob Arnau, a CH-53 pilot with the 21th SOS "Knives." Both pilots have related their "roles" in this unfolding drama via email. The emails are presented here in the approximate order that I received them. The referenced incident occurred on 17 Jan 1970.
From Bob Arnau on 28 Jan 98:
I was a pilot in the 21st SOS - "Knife" - at NKP from Feb '69-Feb '70 and have found your site extremely interesting with great pictures. I learned of your site at the TLC site.
One of your first pictures I viewed was of Ed Homan in A-1H "TS 609". I found it of particular interest because I was involved with the recovery of TS 609 from the Plain of Jars in December '69.
The Zorro squadron commander, flying TS 609, had his engine shot out over the Plain of Jars. I can't recall his name (Al Martin?) but he preceded George Miller as head Zorro. He made a dead stick landing onto an old WWII Japanese airfield (and sometime Lima site) on the PDJ. After touch down he saw that a large area of the PSP had been removed ahead of him so raised the gear and the A-1 continued on its belly, coming to a stop in the dirt where the PSP had been removed. He was soon picked up by a Jolly on alert at Long Tieng (20A).
The next day, I was fragged to take two CH-3's with an A-1 escort from NKP to the PDJ carrying a maintenance offficer and NCO to determine if the A-1 could be recovered. The only problem was that no one knew whether the area belonged to the North Vietnamese or Gen Vang Pao. 56th SOW Intell could only state that the PDJ battle situation was "fluid"!! As we got near the Plain of Jars, I inquired on Air America common freq if anyone had been in the area recently. One Air America pilot indicated that he had taken heavy fire there the previous day (rather obvious since the A-1 had been shot down at that location!). Another suggested that we try it and if no one shot at us it was OK!! That was really a lot of help!
On arrival we saw troops on the ground and one of the A-1's "trolled" the area. No one shot at him so we decided they were friendly! The second helicopter held high, we landed, the maintenance guys safetied the guns and ejection seat, quickly assessed the damage and we departed.
The area remained in friendly hands and a team from NKP came in by helicopter the next day. TS 609 was sling loaded into Long Tieng and eventually returned to full status at NKP.
The attached pictures show TS 609 on the ground at the PDJ (that's me in front of the aircraft) and a few weeks later, after repairs, back on the ramp at NKP.
Following receipt of this email, I contacted Al Martin, with whom I was already in contact. Al had in fact bellied in a Skyraider on the PDJ during this timeframe, but the tail number for his incident was TS 789. Al tells of his incident in the story, Down on the PDJ on the Skyraider Stories page
From Terry Bolstad - 2 Jun 98:
That was my second engine failure. The first was on my first night flight over Steel Tiger - just south of Mu Gia Pass. We got diverted from Barrel Roll to strike some trucks. On my first roll in for gun suppression I realized that I had a lot of red "pippers" in the sight and realized they were 37's. I pickeled, pulled up and the engine came unglued - massive backfiring and afterfire. I wasn't familiar with the area and wasn't too sure how high the mountains were so I tried to head west as far as I could. No one would join up since the 37's were getting a lot more accurate with a target they could see. I made it all the way back to NKP with that one - engine finally siezed on roll out.
The second was a SAR orbit near the Rhinegator NE of the PDJ. I was going for a bailout over the PDJ and was spiralling down through the clouds so the low Jolly could see me before I punched. The Jolly saw me and said there was a runway I might be able to make - a dead stick landing with gear down and then gear up as I headed for the bomb crater. The Jolly landed and picked me and took me to Udorn where I attended a 56 SOW party without my "party" suit. I got to fly the functional check flight on the bird after they recovered it. Really an amazing airplane!
I don't remember any fast mover making a belly landing and flying again!! Well, that's enough for now - I can really get wound up at times.
From Terry Bolstad - 4 Jun 98:
I can't remember who my lead was at the time
- it may have been John Dyer. He and I pulled Sandy alert together
a lot. The problem was the standard for the time -engine started
to vibrate, then backfire getting worse until there was no power
at all. We were orbit a strike in progress near the Rhinegator
(sp) on Route 22 when it started to come unglued.
From Terry Bolstad - 4 Jun 98:
Subj: Another name - another A-1 at LS-22
I just thought about Tom Manley (sp)my roommate
at NKP put an A-1 down
on LS-22 going the opposite direction and ended up off the end of the
runway with no damage. He spent the night there in the fort with
"troops-in-contact" all night. The Laotians loaded him up with so many
"trophies" that we had to get a truck to haul them back to our room when
they brought him back to NKP. The only problem we had was the 37mm
antiaircraft rounds (airburst) he acquired. EOD wouldn't even attempt
to dearm them and took them out to the dump and blew them up - said they
were too dangerous to even have around. I think Tom had an oil sump
light come on.
From Terry Bolstad - 4 Jun 98:
I think you know about George Porters A-1 he bellied in at NKP. That was his second extraction. He slid in on his ordnance and when it started to go off he extracted - he broke his leg when he hit the ground and was wearing a full leg cast for quite some time. I have a black & white picture tht you can just make out the tail in the fireball.
You can use the emails I sent to Tom if you would like and/or I could add more details as I remember them.
At the time I went down, we were eating the
engines due to selecting the wrong setting on the mixture - most
of us used the "normal" detent - wrong spot! They had
an interim fix - leave the mixture on rich for the whole flight
or if you were FCF qualified you used a 10% manual lean. Almost
all of the engine failures in your loss list had about the same
symptoms - rough engine then backfire and in my first incident afterfire between the backfire. I told a bit of that one to Tom also, but there's a lot of detail I remember about that one - scared the "living --it out of me. I pulled the jettison handles so hard I pulled the cable out of the bomb racks.
Terry Bolstad has shared some of his photos on the 'Image Collections' page