This Pilot Executed A Crazy Plan To Save His Family From a Crashing Army Helicopter

This Pilot Executed A Crazy Plan To Save His Family From a Crashing Army Helicopter

Stephanie Schoppert - December 13, 2016

On April 29th, 1975 Ba Van Nguyen was a pilot for the South Vietnamese army. He had been trained on the Chinook (CH-47) helicopter which was the largest and heaviest helicopter in the Vietnamese army. As he awaited further orders from command he learned that there was no hope, Saigon was going to fall to the North Vietnamese Army.

As a member of the South Vietnamese Army, he knew that he faced death if he remained, the invasion of the city could also mean death for his wife and three young children. He refused to let anything happen to his family so he hatched a plan to commit treason and steal a helicopter. He moved his family to his in-laws home which was close to an open field. He told them to pack and to listen for the approach of a Chinook. If they heard the approach of the helicopter they were to run for the field and he would get them to safety.

When it became clear there was no stopping the approach of the North Vietnamese, the base that Nguyen was stationed at was completely chaos. He was able to climb aboard a Chinook and fly it toward the field. When he arrived his family was waiting, but so were other refugees that were traveling through the field in a desperate attempt to escape the city. Unable to leave the other desperate people behind, Nguyen urged the refugees aboard the helicopter along with his family. He took the helicopter back into the air and headed out to sea. He had hoped to find an island that he could land and could plan a way to get out of Vietnam.

But it was not to be. As the helicopter flew over the ocean, Nguyen realized the helicopter did not have enough fuel to make it to an island. His only hope was the sound of American voices on the radio. A Navy ship was nearby. Nguyen tried to respond but knew very little English a man on board the USS Kirk knew a little Vietnamese. Together they managed to convey the desperate situation…there was no where else for the helicopter full of people to go and no space on the deck of the destroyer for the large helicopter to land.

What happened next shocked all the men aboard the USS Kirk and changed their lives forever.

This Pilot Executed A Crazy Plan To Save His Family From a Crashing Army Helicopter
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With not enough fuel to make it back to land and no other options, Nguyen tells the crew of the USS Kirk of a desperate plan. If he just hovers the helicopter over the deck he could have his passengers leap the 10 or more feet down to the deck. It is a risky move considering the youngest of Nguyen’s three children is his 10 month old daughter. But with no other option Nguyen moves his helicopter close to the deck of the USS Kirk. The seas were calm but any change in the seas, the wind or even the speed of the destroyer could spell death for those aboard the Chinook and the men aboard the USS Kirk.

Once the helicopter is in place Nguyen orders women and children out of the helicopter first. He watches as his wife takes a deep breath and tosses their daughter out of the helicopter and into the waiting arms of a sailor. His young sons follow her. All three arrive safely on deck. He bids his wife farewell and she jumps. The rest of the passengers follow suit leaving only Nguyen on the helicopter.

This Pilot Executed A Crazy Plan To Save His Family From a Crashing Army Helicopter
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His only chance for survival is to ditch the helicopter. In order to ensure the safety of his family and the rest of the people aboard the USS Kirk he had to make sure that the helicopter crashed far away from the ship. He flies the aircraft over the ocean and does something that astounds the men on the USS Kirk. Nguyen knew that his heavy flight suit would cause him to sink and be unable to make the swim to the USS Kirk. He begins to strip out of the flight suit all the while keeping the helicopter in a perfect hover just over the water. He stripped down to just a white shirt and his boxers.

In a final Hail Mary he rolled the helicopter to the right while jumping out to the left. The helicopter crashed in spectacular fashion while the men watched from the ship. They frantically searched the water to see if the daring pilot had survived and they were relieved to see his head appear above the water. A boat was sent to get him and he was reunited with his family.

This Pilot Executed A Crazy Plan To Save His Family From a Crashing Army Helicopter
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Ba Van Nguyen and his family made a very successful and happy life for themselves in the United States. They arrived with nothing and speaking very little English but Ba Van Nguyen was determined not to waste his second chance. 40 years later the men of the USS Kirk continued to wonder what had happened to the Chinook pilot and his family. Nguyen’s oldest son learned of their search and revealed that his father was the man they were looking for. Nguyen and his family were invited to a USS Kirk reunion and many of the sailors were overjoyed to see the children they had saved all grown up. At the reunion Ba Van Nguyen was presented with an Air Medal for heroic feats while flying.

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