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DaveTrojan

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 #1 

These Things I Do...That Others May be Remembered, The Tragic Crash of CH-3E, 65-05692

 

            More than a year ago, I happen to come across the static display of a CH-3 helicopter at Davis-Monthan AFB. I had worked and flown on CH-3 helicopters when I was in the Navy and I was very interested to see the static display. Near the helicopter was a plaque that dedicated the static display as a memorial to honor a crew that perished in a crash of a CH-3 in a desolate desert area 20 miles from Davis-Monthan. Right then and there I was determined to locate the crash site if it was possible.  I ordered a copy of the accident report, researched the local newspapers, searched the internet and formulated a plan to find the desolate crash site. 

            The Vietnam-era CH-3E, tail number 65-05692, Jolly Green Giant Helicopter was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as part of Air Force Reserve's 71st Special Operations Squadron, now known as the 943rd Rescue Group. The motto of the 943rd Rescue Group is "These Things We Do...That Others May Live.”

            On Sunday, March 12, 1989, a clear, moonless night, Air Force helicopter 65-05692, call sign PONY 1-2 with an Air Force Reserve crew of 4 and an 11 member Army Special Forces Team aboard from the 5th Special Forces Group assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C. and was participating in a joint-service training exercise. The helicopter was number two of a two ship in trail formation on a planned night infiltration mission.  The flight began from Libby Army Airfield, Fort Huachuca Arizona, 79 miles southeast of Tucson, to the Air Force's Gila Bend Gunnery Range, 124 miles northwest of Tucson. On the way the helicopter stopped at Davis-Monthan AFB for refueling.

            They departed Davis-Monthan at 7:20pm and crashed approximately fifteen minutes later in a desolate desert area in an uninhabited area adjacent to the Sahuaro National Monument about 20 miles northwest of Tucson.  They crashed without getting any radio calls off or anything and the other helicopter in the formation was unaware of what took place. The entire Air Force Reserve crew of 4 and the 11 member Army Special Forces Team were all were lost in the crash. One witness said he saw the crash from his house a few miles away. "I looked up and I seen a yellow ball, like flames, coming out of the back," he said. "Five seconds later I saw it hit the ground, and then there was a red fireball.”

            Air Force investigators looked at everything from weather to maintenance and weight to determine why the helicopter crashed. The helicopter was flying at the prescribed altitude for the area just prior to the crash; they were not on a low-level mission. The use of controversial night vision goggles, which had been an issue in numerous military helicopter crashes at that time were also ruled out as a crash cause.  The main rotor shaft nut, a fastener about a foot in diameter that holds the main rotor head to the helicopter frame, had been checked just two days before the crash. The helicopter was among more than 300 CH-3Es and similar helicopters inspected for defective nuts.  The accident investigation team examined the nut and decided it "wasn't a factor in the accident." The nut was found still in place, holding what remained of the rotor blades to what remained of the helicopter's engine housing.

            The mystery of why the helicopter crashed continued for some time until investigators dug deep into the maintenance records and examined the wreckage which was removed to Davis-Monthan and photographed. There wasn't much left because there was a post crash fire that destroyed most of the evidence. It turns out that one of the main rotor blades was overhauled and replaced just before the crash. The main rotor blade that was replaced was incorrectly overhauled by the factory and failed 15 minutes into the flight, taking out the tail rotor.

            It was further discovered that a number of other main rotor blades were also incorrectly overhauled. The overhaul company, United Technologies Corporation (UTC) and Sikorsky were later sued as a result of this accident. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Air Force Reserve crew members lost in the accident in court cases Slaven vs. UTC and Thomas vs. Sikorsky.   A legal file with wreckage photographs is in the archives of a lawyer’s office in Los Angeles. I contacted one of the lawyers in the case and he gave me some of the details of this story.

            I traveled down to the area of the crash site south of Marana Arizona on several occasions in search of the exact crash site. The area is still pretty desolate for the most part, but there are some areas of development.  Using the original accident report I was able to narrow down my search area. I traversed the open desert in search of the exact spot.  Luckily, one day as I crossed the sandy ground I spotted a small piece of melted aluminum, I knew I was close. I slowly searched the terrain for other signs. As I rounded a bush, I discovered the tale tell signs of the crash site. It was a small site, but I could tell this was the correct location. I found small bits of Plexiglas, aluminum, and other metal parts.  I was able to identify some of the parts because I worked on the same model CH-3 when I was in the Navy. It was kind of spooky when I found something and then realized what it was.  I was able to confirm the site by finding a part with a CH-3 Sikorsky part number on it. I believe many more small parts are buried at the site. On a sad note, I found several personal buttons which made me remember the crewmembers lost in the crash. I plan on placing a memorial at the crash site because of the great loss of life. The helicopter was packed with souls aboard.  

            The Air Force Reserve crew members lost in the accident were: Lt. Col. Lawrence M. Rolle, 41, of Phoenix, commander of the reserve squadron and co-pilot of the helicopter; Maj. Donald D. Thomas, 42, of Tempe, the pilot; Master Sgt. Malte Breitlow, 45, of Tucson, and Tech. Sgt. William E. Slaven, 37, also of Tucson.

            The Army Special Forces Team aboard from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C. were Capt.  lvin L. Broussard, 30, of Sulphur, La.; Capt. Alan C. Brown, 32, West Plains, Mo.; Master Sgt. Roger D. Berryhill, 34, Pahokee, Fla.; Sgt. 1st Class Larry K. Evans, 30, Sparks, Nev.; Sgt. 1st Class George A. Wayne, 31, Whiteville, N.C.; Staff. Sgt. John W. Bigler II, 24, of Long Beach, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Campbell, 26, Clinton, S.C.; Staff Sgt. Robert L. Griswold, Fayetteville, N.C.; Staff Sgt. Kevin R. Livengood, 29, San  Antonio, Texas; Sgt. Larry D. Endress, 30, Clearwater, Fla.; and Sgt. Terry M. Hollway, 28, Los Angeles.

            I had flown many times on CH-3 helicopters when I was in the military and it could have easily been me killed as a result of a defective main rotor blade. That is why I spent so much time researching, searching and remembering the tragic crash of CH-3E, 65-05692, “these things I do...that others may be remembered.” I believe that it is important to remember the memory and sacrifices of those that have gone before us and paid the ultimate price to win and maintain the freedoms we all enjoy today. If we forget these sacrifices we will never truly appreciate how precious, valuable and costly these freedoms are. We must remember freedom is not free; it is paid for with the sweat from our brows, the tears of our families, and sometimes the blood of our comrades.

DaveT

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XHunter

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 #2 
These Things I Do...That Others May be Remembered...

  Good on ya, Dave. Nicely done

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xplaneguy

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 #3 
Dave-This was tough to read. What a tragedy! Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Let us know when you plan on placing the memorial, if possible, Evelyn and I will make the 7 hour drive to be there.

My father was a mechanic on HH-3E Jolly Greens at Homestead AFB, FL from 1975-80.

Regards,
Tony 

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Jeff_Wilkinson

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 #4 
Outstanding, Dave. Thanks for the hard work.
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theronmoon

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 #5 
Awesome work Dave! Thanks for sharing the story. A story that needs to be told. There is a couple of sites that I have been considering making memorials for so I interested to see how this one goes.

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SIDSIKO

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 #6 
Attached, hopefully, is a shot of the ill fated 65-5692, possibly awaiting overhaul at D-M, taken in November 1988. The correct serial of the H-3 that is preserved at the memorial should be 65-12799 and not 65-0799 as given on the infomation board.



DaveTrojan

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 #7 
Thanks for the photo, However, It looks to be the display aircraft 65-12799 marked as '692. Also the image looks like it was taken near the display area near the main gate.
Do you have any more info about the photo? Are you sure it was taken in 1988?
I'm currently looking for pictures of 692 prior to the accident. The only one I have so far is from 1983.
DaveT  

kbreitlow

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 #8 
Dave -
Thank you for your kind words and efforts to create a memorial for this site. My father was Master Sgt. Malte Breitlow and perished in that crash. On one hand it seems like a lifetime ago, on the other hand it always seems like yesterday. I'd be interested to learn more about the site and what you found.
Thank you again, KarinAnne

MRice

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 #9 

Just saw this website. Lawrence "Murphy" Rolle, the commanding officer of the squadron, was one of my best friends from the first grade on. I hadn't seen him for several years prior to his death but I can tell you he was one of the best guys you could ever know. He was a highly decorated Vietnam pilot and had the best sense of humor you could ever find. He and the others deserve as much recognition as can bestowed upon them.

DaveTrojan

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 #10 

Memorial Day Tribute.

 This Memorial Day, braving temperatures that were topping 100 degrees, I set out to remember forgotten heroes who died in the crash of the CH-3E helicopter. Earlier this year, I had located the micro site and planned to return with a marker for the crash site victims due to the great loss of life, 4 aircrew and 11 passengers.  I thought they deserved something to mark the desolate desert site. I had just finished the marker and I was going to be in the area on Memorial Day so I thought it would be a good time to place it.The plaque reads:

In memory of the aircrew and passengers of CH-3E, 65-05692, call sign PONY 1-2 That were lost here March 12, 1989 May they rest in peace

 I planted the marker next to a small tree and just in front of the impact site. I then read off the list of the names of the fallen and then gave them a final salute. My hope is that the marker will last for years. If I’m in the area again, I plan on checking on it.   These things I do...that others may be remembered     

DaveT

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XHunter

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 #11 
Well done, Dave. You do their memory great service

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 #12 
Dave,

Good on you for creating a really nice marker and for honoring these fallen heroes on Memorial Day!

Regards,
Tony

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10tweaker

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 #13 
That is truly OUTSTANDING work Dave--excellent write-up as well.  I worked on SH-3Hs in the Navy (Line Rat/PC) and lost a buddy at sea after our squadron was decommed and replaced by -60s.  They never recovered him or his fellow Aircrewman.  Another friend of mine--a Photographer's Mate--covered the memorial service and said it was one of the more emotional memorials he had attended.  It is a great thing to remember those guys--and you did a nice job of it...


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 #14 

Dave,

 

Thanks for all the great work I just discovered you have done. I'm a Special Operations Soldier here at Ft. Bragg, NC and I'll be leaving here for the last time in a few days. I was going around wrapping some things up on my "to-do" list to get done before heading out for the final time.

 

One of those things on my list was going to the Special Forces Chapel here where they have a small plaque dedicated to the Green Berets that were on that ill fated CH-3E. I wanted to get an etching off the plaque of a name that happens to belong to my best friend ... John W. Bigler. John was an old room mate of mine and we came up through the ranks together when we were in the Screaming Eagles (101st ABN/AASLT Division together). We both followed a path to Special Forces afterwards. 
 
I remember being back home in Virginia visiting my parents. When I was leaving their house I happen to catch a small sliver of the crash incident on the news. There were no specific details, just a slight mention of a Special Forces team going down in AZ. I was thinking that was tough luck but I had no idea John perished in that crash. When I got back to my home, as soon as I walked through the door I got a call from his wife telling me John was on the helicopter that went down.  

 

Several years later when I was going through HALO school in Yuma I had a weekend off so I took off so to Marana with no clue as to where the crash site actually was. With the short weekend and long drive I had minimal time to find the site. I ran into a local person that said he had been at the crash site when it happened. He gave me directions and some guidance of what to look and told me there used to be a wood memorial plaque at the site. I found what I thought was the crash site but had nothing to confirm that it actually was. There was no plaque. Just some open ground and I think the foundation of an old farm house nearby. I said my goodbyes in hopes of returning back again someday to find the actual site.

 

Dave, did you get a GPS location of the crash site. I would be very grateful if I could get that from you or some precise directions to the site.
 
Thanks again! Drew C.

 

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ethomas

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 #15 
Thank you for doing the research, creating the memorial, and placing it at the site. My father, Maj. Donald Thomas, was the pilot on this mission. It is heartening that all these years later that the sacrifice these men made has not been forgotten.

Eric Thomas
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