1stLt Wallace joined HMM-364 on Saturday, December 12, 1970 and served until the squadron stood down from combat operations, on February 16, 1971, in preparation for returning to the United States. Lt Wallace's normal tour of 12 months had not been fulfilled so he was transferred to HMM-262 (many other members of HMM-364 were also sent to other commands for the same reason).
On April 20, 1971 he was acting as pilot of a CH-46 which had a transmission failure off the coast of Marble Mountain Air Facility. The plane crashed in the water and Lt Wallace was killed in the crash. Lt Wallace's death was the last casualty suffered by HMM-262 prior to their return to the US.
"Like Jack, I was transferred to another unit, DaNang Direct Air Support Center (DASC) when the "Foxes" shut down operations in February. I flew with Jack the day before he crashed, and was the duty Helo Director in DaNang DASC the next day when he crashed. The helo went down in the surf just off Marble Mountain while doing pattern work and Jack drowned when he became incapacitated during the crash and subsequently inhaled JP (jet fuel) and sea water. His co-pilot, Ed Parkerson, was injured and trapped momentarily underwater. I recall him relating it was just like the training he had received during flight training at Pensacola, Fl in the "Dilbert Dunker". He followed the procedures he had been taught, egressed the submerged aircraft and was rescued by someone from the beach. Jack was a friend and great guy, missed by all who knew him".
"I was at camp Hoa Long north of Marble Mountain air strip when the helicopter piloted by John Wallace crashed in the surf next to our compound. I was the BN Construction Officer with the 84th Engineer Battalion. I will never forget the sound of the rotors hitting together as the helicopter was overhead. The pilot did a tremendous job of landing in the surf. All the men of our Battalion rushed to aid the men who were in the helo. We recently had a reunion of the 84th and one of the topics of discussion was the crash of that helicopter. An article (below) was in the Stars and Stripes newspaper at that time."
"There are better men than myself to speak about this incident. 1stLt John Sasser (Commander of the well drilling detachment) helped pull Lt Wallace from the helo and was among the first to arrive at the scene. John is in the picture and remembers the crash and rescue in detail. He recently told me of the extreme efforts of SSgt Edmund MacNeil to save the life of Jack Wallace (Ed was our medic and was KIA on May 2, 1971). Captain Ronald Bynum (84th BN Chaplain) was also in the picture as he helped in the struggle to save the crew. Two other Marines perished in this crash but others survived. I hope this information helps to honor the memory of 1stLt John T. "Jack" Wallace who gave his life for our nation and his fellow Marines."
�Never Daunted� Motto of the 84th
Aids Helo Crash Victims
By Spec. 5 Alan Leo
DA NANG, Vietnam (Special) - It began as a quiet evening for the men of the 84th Engineer Bn. (Construction). But before the sun went down, they would find themselves struggling with nature's elements in a life-or-death mission.
A calm breeze coming in from the ocean cooled off the volleyball players, the letter writers, and the men listening to music after a hard day's work. Only the drone of occasional choppers overhead intruded on the serene atmosphere.
Suddenly, heads turned skyward. An unknown sound from high above distracted men from their leisure. Taking off from nearby Marble Mountain, a Marine helicopter following its prescribed air traffic route, was directly over the 84th Bn. headquarters when its engines lost pressure and the props froze.
Taking quick action, the Marine chopper pilot diverted the crippled ship, which was plunging toward the engineer's area, and headed it out toward the shoreline.
The torque-bent prop blades were thrown askew by air pressure as the craft fell. The blades sliced into the fuselage as the helicopter crashed into the South China Sea about fifty yards from shore.
"The guys came pouring out of the hootches in underwear, civilian clothes or fatigues and headed toward the crash site. They scaled the barbed wire in every way conceivable and squeezed through the gateway" explained Spec. 5 Roger A. Budney. "Within a matter of minutes twenty or thirty men had formed a human chain to hold the wreckage from drifting out to sea with the tide."
While others joined in the chain, some men entered the downed chopper in search of survivors. "When I got there, one pilot crawled out on top of a section of the wreckage. Aviation fuel was swirling everywhere and everyone was afraid that it would burst into flames before we could help the victims out," said Spec. 5 Richard Hassett. Two more crew members were extracted from the sinking debris and medevaced.
The setting sun dropped below the horizon, making it difficult to see. A bucket loader drove down to the beach and helped pull the twisted flotsam onto dry land. Men of the 536th Engineer Det. (Port Construction) inspected the dripping wreckage for explosives and removed and cleared the loaded weapons on board.
"It was tremendous how men reacted as if they had rehearsed for it," said Spec. 5 Larry Padilla.
"I had just come in from a work site and was sitting in the Operations shack writing a report when I heard a sharp noise, like �pop-pop� or �whap-whap,� coming from a helicopter that was flying over our base. I have always thought the sound was the engine backfiring, but, after reading about the hydraulic failure, I guess it was the sound of the blades hitting each other. I looked out the window and saw a fire-ball in the sky, like napalm exploding, and glimpsed the body of the helicopter falling towards the beach."
"The helicopter had broken in two and was in the water about at the breaker line. Two Marines in flight suits and helmets were staggering up to the beach through waist deep water. I tired to ask them both how many people were in the helicopter but they were too stunned to hear me or to answer."
"The water was covered with aviation gasoline � air thick with fumes. The front section of the helicopter was right at the breaker line, lying on its side. The waves weren't real big but they were breaking over the wreck as we climbed up on it. The pilot was still inside, on the far side, or bottom side, as we were looking at it, with only his shoulder and hip above water when the waves drained away. The top side of the cockpit had been broken open so we could see the pilot as if he was in the bottom of a hole lined with wreckage that was as deep as the cockpit was wide. There were two guys on top already, and they leaned in � almost dove - into the �hole� between waves and grabbed the pilot's shoulder, trying pull him out before the next wave broke over us and filled the hole with water, but the pilot was held fast. We decided he must have his seat belt on, and one of our guys dove into the hole and felt around, but because of the wreckage and the way the pilot was turned he couldn't be sure if the seat belt was on or not. I ducked under the water and found a small window that was open next to the pilot, which I was able to reach through and find the seat belt and open the latch. With that, the two guys on top got in the hole and pulled the pilot out. I had crawled back up on top, and helped them pull him up. He was unconscious and not breathing but had no obvious injuries. The next wave knocked us all off the helicopter but by this time there were others standing inshore of the wreck and they grabbed the pilot as the wave hit us and carried him to the beach."
"There was one other Marine casualty lying on the beach where I assume someone had dragged him, badly injured and clearly dead. Our medics gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the pilot, and every time they blew in, he would vomit back in their faces, but they would turn his head and clear the airway and try again. I particularly remember Sgt. Ed MacNeil because he had shaving cream on his face, or foam, as he bent over the pilot and tried to blow life into him. The medics would gag and spit out vomit and then go right back to blowing air into the pilot's mouth."
"I went back out to the rear half of the helicopter, which was little closer to the shore, just as our guys pulled out another Marine � I have the impression that some of our guys got inside the wreck to find him. The Marine looked lifeless as they carried him up the beach. About this time another CH-46 landed on the beach, and they took the crew on board. I assume this is when the Stars and Stripes photo was taken."
John Sasser, former 1stLt., USA
84th Engineer Battalion
"Like Jack, I went over to HMM-262 in March 1971 after HMM-364 stood down from combat operations in preparation for de-commissioning. I was standing on the beach in front of the Officers Club at Marble Mountain Air Facility (MMAF) and watched the aircraft fly by just moments before it crashed. The crew was preparing to assume the night medical evacuation mission. The aircraft was in level flight at approximately 700 feet when the intermeshing rotor blades de-synched due to a hydraulic failure in the forward transmission. The rotor blades, now out of synchronization, began to hit together thus destroying them. Although the CH-46 was destroyed, it did not burn as it crashed in six to ten feet of water beyond the surf line on the beach about one click north of MMAF."
"Although I never read any official reports, the "scuttlebutt" was that the main hydraulic feed line to the transmission had pulled out at the quick disconnect fitting. I have pictures of the the wreckage on the flight line after it was retrieved from the water. The "tail" number was ET-12 and the best I can make out on the serial number is 153xxx."
"The Wall" indicates that Lt Wallace's aircraft crashed on land. No other information is currently available.
Information on this incident provided by:
Daniel J. Moseler, LtCol USMC(Ret)
Peter T. Baron, LtCol USMC(Ret)
Mark Bumm, former Capt USMCR
Photograph of John Thomas Wallace from HMM-262's web site
Charles R. "Chuck" Stewart, former 1stLt USA
Stars and Stripes photograph by Spec. 5 Roger A. Budney, USA
Stars and Stripes article by Spec. 5 Alan Leo
Last update: September 1, 2005
Does anyone have additional information
on this incident? If so please advise.
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