Taipei Air Station - 1966 - - - " What you have in the end are memories"......... Photo Courtesy of Richard Reesh.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Captain Warlock

Steve Sitar, an Air Traffic Controller at CCK, in the 1960s, came upon this story and sent it on to us.

Steve was on-duty in the CCK Control Tower, on the fatal day.

The story below, authored by Paul Warnock, appears in the “Rockingham Remembered” web site. Here you'll find stories written by Paul, and other authors. The website is operated by Joel Bailey.

In addition to the Rockingham Remembered site, Joel maintains a new site called, "Rockingham Memories."  where you'll find other stories and items about Rockingham, North Carolina.



Captain Warlock

written by Paul Warnock

This story takes place in Taiwan.  The year is 1968, and this old Rockingham boy is twenty-six years old. 

This is right in the beginning of my fourth and final year in the United States Air Force.

I had been married a little more than a year.

War casualties are mounting at the two hundred per week pace; they will exceed fifty-eight thousand by the time the war is over.

The war is becoming more and more unpopular on the home front as antiwar demonstrations are threatening to tear our Country apart.

That's part of the price you have to pay for a democracy with all the freedoms we enjoy.

They even had antiwar organizations in the North back during the US Civil War.  They were referred to as the "Copperheads" because they used the figure cut from a copper penny attached to their lapels.  But this story is not about antiwar groups, or the disheartening effect they had on the troops fighting the war.

This story is about overconfidence.

We were at Ching Chuan Kang (CCK) Air Base near Taichung, Taiwan.  We were midway down the west side of the island facing the Straits of Taiwan, only ninety mines from Mainland China.

We had about fifty members in our weather detachment, and we provided twenty-four weather forecasting service for an entire wing of C-130 cargo planes and a squadron of C-135 tanker places.  We were in direct support of the War.

We had a Chinese lady as our secretary in our unit named "Mrs. Rose Chen."  Note that when you see a Chinese name, the family names comes first, the opposite of our culture.  Chen was her family name, Rose was her "English" name.  She had a Chinese name, but I do not remember it.  She and her family had come over from the Mainland in 1948 when the Communists forced Chiang Kai-Shek out of power and they had to flee to Taiwan.  She was married to a Chinese (Taiwanese) Army Officer.  She could speak English fairly well except she had problems with my last name.  Our unit commander was Major Tucker.  I was the senior Captain, and that made me second in command of the unit, but there was little attached to that since I only had one or two days seniority over the guys right behind me.

Anyhow, Mrs. Chen called me Captain Warlock. I tried to explain to her that it was "War" and then "nock" not "War" and then "lock"  I even explained to her the negative connotation of the word warlock.  Then I tried to explain to her the difference in English between the sound of an "N" and the sound of an "L."

I said:  "Now you try it: 'War-nock' "  Then she replied: "That's what I said: 'War-lock' "  She evidently was completely unable to distinguish the sound of an "N" from the sound of an "L." 

I gave up after a couple of days, and asked her to just call me "Paul."  I assume the others in the detachment enjoyed this humor, but they never mentioned it to me.

We had three chaplains on the base, plus we had a nice Chapel that would hold almost three hundred people.  We had over seven thousand American Airmen on the base, which meant we could accommodate a little more than 4% of the base for one service.  We had a Baptist, a Catholic and a Presbyterian chaplain.

The Catholic chaplain was in our BOQ (housing complex); so I knew him better than the rest especially since my roommate was also Catholic.  Both he and my roommate were not exactly the world's best chess players, as neither one of them ever came close to beating me in that game.  

Back in Rockingham and Gastonia, we brothers used to play chess a lot when we were otherwise bored during summer vacation; my oldest brother was really good; he could beat me three out of five games.

This base was an isolated tour, which means you couldn't bring you wife and family, as there were no facilities for them.

There's nothing wrong with being aggressive in your thinking if you have thought about everything using some type of risk management analysis. That is, you need to look at what you might gain as compared with what you may loose (that is, the positives against the negatives) and assign probabilities to each.

For example, a plumber works for another man.  He has a good income, but feels his boss (the owner of the business) keeps too much for himself.

His wife is sickly, so he can't afford to be without work for very long.  The man considers going into business for himself because he is a very good plumber.

When he does his risk analysis, he realizes he may not be a good business manager, which might lead him to look for a partner who has good business skills and maybe not-so-good plumbing skills. 

Overconfidence occurs when you try to do more than you are capable of doing just because you are very good at what you do.  This person uses wishful thinking as a substitute for risk management.

On the way to Taiwan, we flew out of McChord Air Base near Seattle.  It was a twelve-hour flight to Tokyo and and additional fours hours to Taipei.  At the end of the ordeal, they put us on Chinese (Taiwanese) buses for the hundred-mile trip to our base.  It was almost impossible to sleep on those flights, so about all we had to do was to talk with each other. 

I was just sitting there when this other Airman came up to me and said: "Hello, I'm Bob Taggie."  I noticed the gold-colored oak leaf insignia on his collar, and replied, "Good evening, Sir" and introduced myself.  We started talking.  I told him about my background in North Carolina, married, no children yet and that I was a meteorologist.  He then told me his situation, from Pennsylvania, married, two children, and that he was a C-130 navigator.  I remember that he told me that he had just spend the last several weeks with his family, then he showed me pictures of them.  They had one boy and one girl, the perfect All-American family.

When an airplane seriously damages its landing gear, usually due to rough landing, they have to send it back to the States to be refitted by factory technicians.

There was such a C-130 that needed to go back to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City for just such a refitting.  They would lock the wheels in the down position for the entire flight.  That would make for a bumpy and slow ride, but for the crew it was a free trip back to the States to see their families.  This would not count as leave (vacation) and they were required to stay until the plane had been repaired, because then they would need to fly the airplane back to Taiwan.

Major Taggie was the navigator of the crew that had been selected for this flight to Oklahoma.  The aircraft commander and pilot for that crew, Colonel Vance (name changed - I don't remember his actual name), was one of the C-130 squadron commanders (three to four squadrons comprise a wing.)  As the squadron commander, he was a senior person of high rank, in this case a full Colonel.  Colonel Vance had over 15,000 flying hours; so he was extremely experienced and very good at what he did - flying airplanes.  We only had five full Colonels on the entire base and no Generals. 

The mission for the Vance crew that day was to make a delivery to the front lines in Vietnam.  The cargo was classified, but we can assume it was ammunition, food and other supplies.

The C-130 aircraft could descend very sharply, deliver their cargo out their back ramp at several feet off the ground, and then climb to altitude rapidly to avoid enemy fire.  In doing this, they never touched the ground. 

It was over a thousand-mile trip one-way; so these missions could easily take a total of six to eight hours. 

This mission was complicated by the fact that the Vance crew had a second crew in training on this flight.  A C-130 crew is normally six, but there were now twelve men on board.  To complete that mission, the crew had to bring the airplane back to the original base.  Should they need to stop at an alternate base, they had to stay with their airplane until they could fly it back to our base (CCK). 

There was an Air Force regulation that required a crew to have eight hours of sleep (if their flight was interrupted),  before they could continue, if the original flight had exceeded a certain time limit, and their flight HAD. 

The bottom line of this was, the Vance crew had to return this plane to CCK that evening if they still wanted to take the crippled plane to Oklahoma the next day; otherwise, an alternate crew would fly the crippled airplane stateside.

Do you remember the movie "Mary Poppins" where she came into town as the wind shifted, and when the wind shifted again, it was time for her to leave?

We had northwesterly winds at CCK, we had a tendency to get massive fog.  We were only 5 miles from the coastline where there was a seven hundred foot cliff straight down to the beach. 

Normally (95% of the time) we had southerly winds and very nice, clear flying weather.  At this particular time we were experiencing these northwesterly winds, and our base could be fogged-in with zero visibility for many hours.  That means aircraft could neither land nor take off until the visibility improved. 

An airborne crew could be required to land at an alternate base such as Taipei or Tainan, both only twenty minutes away in opposite directions.  These bases were not experiencing our fog problem.  We had had this fog problem for the past two days, and we had forecast it to last at least several more days.  However, during this fog, the visibility could improve for an hour or so, and then fog would return again with zero visibility.  That meant a crew could wait a while (in a circular holding pattern) and they might be able to land.  There was no way to forecast the good periods except they seem to always happen during the neat of the day, never at night.

Colonel Vance came into our weather station the day before his mission, and we apprised him of the situation.  He mentioned they absolutely needed to return to CCK as apposed to an alternate.  If they had to land at an alternate, they would not be able to fly the cripple back to the States the following day.  He said that when he completed his mission he would land at a coastal base in Viet Nam and refuel so they could circle CCK for as long as it took.  That sounded like good reasoning.

On the day of the mission, they were able to take off as scheduled.  Everything went smoothly until they arrived back at CCK about 2200 (10 PM) that night.

I was working the second shift that night from 4PM until midnight.  Colonel Vance called me on the radio and we went over the situation thoroughly. 

We were fogged completely with zero visibility, and that was exactly what we had forecasted for him as his flight left that morning.  It was unlikely that there would be a break in the fog until at least mid-morning the next day.

He mentioned that he was circling at one thousand feet and that he could look straight down and see the base, but when he attempted an approach he couldn't see anything and had to pull up.  He continued to call me about every thirty minutes until my shift ended.  I briefed my replacement about Colonel Vance who was still airborne at that time.

Now, as a full Colonel and as a senior pilot with over 15,000 flying hours, there was a loophole in the safety regulations that allowed Colonel Vance to make an instrument approach in zero visibility. He would attempt his approach, and if he did not have clear visibility at one hundred feet, he was required to pull up and go around again.  He could attempt this as many times as he desired.  And he had been doing that since 10 PM.

Finally at 0200 (2 AM) the next morning while making one of these zero visibility approaches, he thought he saw the runway and adjusted his flight path to be able to land.  He lost that visibility very quickly, but he continued anyhow, using only his judgment and memory for where he saw the runway (this involved only a few seconds.)  His left wing hit a tree and flipped him.  There was a loud explosion, which I heard from my BOQ. 

I dressed and went back to the weather station. My worst fears were realized.  We had just added twelve more casualties to the Viet Nam War cost, since they had been on a combat mission.

There was a morose atmosphere around the base for at least a month.  They had nice memorial services for the deceased at the Base Chapel.  The bodies were identified using dental records. 

I still think of Major Taggie even today, and the conversations we had going over to Taiwan just four of five months before this accident.  His children would be in their mid-forties by now.

There was an accident investigation board, of course.  Major Tucker and his boss from Guam attended, to represent our weather unit.  Our weather-related radio conversations had been recorded and were used at the investigation.

The verdict:  "Pilot Error."


Editor's Remark.....

From the history of the US Air Force in Taiwan:

Taipei Air Station: History of the US Air Force in Taiwan - 1968


15 February.  The CCK RAPCON was approved by joint USAF/CAF/CCAA agreement to operate in a test status.  It began operation on 29 February 1968.

18 February.  The Mobile RAPCON AN/MPN-14 at CCK AB was commissioned on 30 October 1967 and began operating as an approach control system this date.  6 hours later, it became a fixed GCA operation due to land-line difficulties with off base agencies.  

I am not familiar with the above system.  Was it a factor is this accident?

Perhaps someone can explain any significance it might have had in this accident, if any..

Please leave your thoughts in a Comment below.  Thank you.








 

2 comments:

LARRY DODSON said...

I was part of the rescue/recovery crew for this crash. Would like to contact anyone else who participated.

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