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.