On the night of October 13, 1971, the crew of Dustoff 71 crashed in the Seven Sisters Mountain region in far western IV Corps. All aboard perished. These were the last casualties of the 57th Med Detachment during the Vietnam war. Lost in that crash were CW2 Ronald Schulz, WO1 John Chrin, SP4 Michael Darrah, Sgt Hugo Gaytan, and PFC Ricky Pate.
Vietnam map showing the area of the Seven Sisters mountains.
Waiting for the fog to burn off.
No one was looking forward to going up the mountain.
As the fog lifted, the two helicopters airlifted the investigation teams to the top of the mountain where they would be met by an ARVN security force.
The two helicopters touched down in the tall elephant grass in the LZ and were met by the ARVN security forces.
The ARVNs led the team to the edge of the clearing and down the mountainside. Imagine, my first week in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and here I am in the field with an M16 covering ground with the troops.
The work begins,
Five men were on the helicopter, yet there were only four badly burned bodies in the wreckage. The teams searched everywhere for the missing man, but there was no sign of him. We learned later it was Mike Darrah (see story).
We all spread out to search the jungle for the missing crewmember. It was unlikely he could have survived such a tremendous impact.
Everyone was at a loss. At this time we didn’t know who the missing crewman was, and even began to wonder if he had been aboard.
As a newbie, in country less than a week and yet to fly my first mission, this recovery mission was my introduction to the realities of war. (David Freeman)
We traced the route of the aircraft through the trees and determined the crew had in all likelihood never seen the mountain until the last minute.
The wreckage contained very few clues as to how this accident happened.
Dustoff 88 (Jack Grass) hovered overhead and using the internal rescue hoist, lifted out the body bags containing the remains that had been recovered.
The missing man could have been anywhere. We enlisted the aid of the ARVNs to locate him.
The helicopters returned to the top of the mountain to lift us out before dark.