In 1969, the CH-46 Sea Knight was the workhorse of the US Marine Corps in Vietnam. On an overcast, rainy monsoon morning a CH46 took off from Phu Bai near Hue in northern I Corps. Aboard was a Marine senior NCO assigned to a communication facility. He was carrying a Top Secret SCI document; he shouldn’t have been.
The helicopter crew chief and gunner mans one of the .50 caliber machine guns, watching carefully for enemy activity – assuming that enemy troops were also aware of the crash and might be marching to it then.
Doug and DaNang’s senior resident agent were mobilized to accompany the recovery crew to retrieve documents. Here the squadron commander pilot is carefully flying under the clouds to the crash, seen in center upper part of the image.
The recovery team leader, Sgt Brown, holds his M-79 grenade launcher in readiness as the pilot cautiously approaches the crash.
In a fatal navigation error and in heavy weather, the pilots failed to clear mountainous Hai Van Pass, immediately north of DaNang. The helicopter flew into the mountainside, killing all aboard.
Over the crash, Sgt Brown exits through the “hellhole” on a jungle penetrator. He was greeted on the ground by a platoon of recently-arrived Marines who were setting up a perimeter. Simultaneously, bad weather blew in and the pilot aborted the mission, with Doug and other crew still aboard. The document was soon after found in the wreckage by the platoon commander and safely delivered to the grateful staff of III Marine Amphibious Force in DaNang.