"Timing is Everything"
"Timing is Everything"
Submitted by -1LT Robert Brewster, Headhunter 37, 3rd PLT Qui Nhon, Sep '70-Oct '71
While assigned to the 3rd Platoon in Qui Nhon mid-1971, I loved to fly the Bird Dog low level over the beaches to the north near the Phu Cat Mountains. The beaches in Vietnam were beautiful and north of Qui Nhon they were also very wide. The mountains dropped right down into the sand which ran out into the South China Sea. We rarely saw any people on these beaches. The Phu Cat Mountains harbored a lot of the enemy both VC and North Vietnamese Regulars making the wide beach exposure very dangerous.
I found the beaches to be very relaxing. Often times, heading north or south on missions I would drop down within five to ten feet of the water and lazily bank my aircraft back and forth, first over water then over sand. On this particular day, it was bright sunshine with no clouds. I could see my Bird Dog’s shadow below me on the beach as though I was formation flying with another airplane. I could have been anywhere else in the world enjoying a peaceful flight in beautiful surroundings but this was still a war zone.
As I zig zagged back and forth across the waves and then over the sand suddenly there was an explosion directly in front of my aircraft. Everything turned black in front of me as smoke and sand flew up into the aircraft and through the propeller. I had all my side windows open and sand and dirt flew inside the cockpit. Fortunately I had my helmet visor down preventing the sand from hitting my eyes, face and mouth.
Without thinking, I instinctively banked to the left to fly out over the water away from the beach. My thoughts were that my complacency led me to fly into a mortar or rocket attack from the nearby mountainside. I pushed the throttle full forward and I remember leaning forward in the pilot’s seat hoping it would help me get away from the beach faster as I banked one way then another trying to get away. I looked at all my engine gauges. The oil pressure and engine RPM were still normal. My fear was an engine failure and ditching in the water. I waited for more rounds to hit but nothing else happened. I looked back toward the beach and saw a large cloud of smoke and dust climbing up from the sand. Nothing else was visible. Was this just one round?
I immediately flew back to Qui Nhon where after landing I inspected the O-1 and found nothing. No hit marks, shrapnel or any damage. I turned in a report that I had taken ground fire from somewhere in the mountains without sustaining any damage. That night I went to the Navy Officers Club in Qui Nhon City. There I met a Navy Seal. Upon telling him my story from that day, he volunteered to check out the beach area where the explosion occurred. I questioned him as to how he could do that and he told me he had a Boston Whaler that they used for patrols. I was surprised (nothing should surprise anybody about a Navy Seal) and I told him “Yes, please let me know if you find anything”. Truthfully, I thought he was joking with me and that I would hear nothing from him.
A week later I see my Navy Seal friend again. I ask if he had a chance to visit the beach as we discussed. He told me “Oh, yes! And, you will never believe what I found out there.” I asked him about what he found and he went on to tell me that there was a very large crater in the beach at the location I told him about. He said I was very lucky. When I questioned out loud what could have happened he told me that there were pieces of sea turtle scattered all over the crater and sand. Apparently, at the exact time that I was low leveling from the ocean surf back over the beach sand, a large green sea turtle was digging a hole in the sand and hit a land mine. He told me that the whole beach area north of Qui Nhon was full of landmines from the French, the U.S. and others. This made the beach very unsafe and the reason why no one was ever seen walking out there.
Incredibly, of all the close calls I experienced in Vietnam during my year of flying Bird Dogs where I could have crashed or died, this was probably the closest. The irony is that if I was a few seconds faster and had actually crashed and died, I would have been killed by one of the slowest and most gentle creatures on Earth – a sea turtle! Timing is truly everything!
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