Sheppard AFB, TX
25 Oct 1966
“It happened 25 Oct 66 at the fire fighting practice field at Grandfield Oklahoma. When I got orders for Vietnam on the 43 the Air Force had the idea that it would be good to have the flight mechanic double as an airborne firefighter.
I was sent to the school at Sheppard & had about two more flights to finish the course when the crash happened. The IP was Maj. Ed Duchene, I can’t remember the student pilot’s name, he was taking a check ride & was in a hover with the FSK attached when the engine blew, we came down on top of the FSK & the IP rolled it onto it’s right side.
My partner was a real fireman his last name was Blais & was sitting in the seat behind the pilot, he went over the pilots seat & out through the broken plexiglass nose. I was setting in the rear next to the step & I started to exit through the rear doors but the rotor blades were beating them self’s to death back there & what looked like turbine wheel buckets were flying around also, the fire started about that time, I reached for the fire hood that you wear when you go into a fire & the durn thing had fuel inside of it & was burning so I couldn’t use it.
I also didn’t have the heavy firefighting gloves on at that time. That’s when the inside of the chopper filled with thick black smoke & I didn’t know up from down. I had one arm over my face & was feeling for the side door but because the chopper was on its right side I was actually feeling the top of the cabin. At that point I was burning & thought to myself, you’re not going to get out of here, then I heard Blais hollering my name & I lunged toward his voice & he grabbed my wrist & pulled me through the opening behind the IP’s seat & out the nose of the burning chopper. He & one of the pilots pulled me away, they were saying get the boot off get the boot off.
It was burning & I slung my left leg & the boot went flying. There was another H-43 refueling at the other end of the field & when the pilot heard the engine blow he started his chopper & flew up to the crash & was outside opening the rear doors on the 43 when they got me out so they got me in the chopper & a medic sat in the seat by the side door, if he hadn’t closed the door I would have jumped out before we got off the ground, I didn’t want any part of another H-43.
My face, neck & ears were burned; the back of my right hand was burned pretty badly. My left foot was really hurting, so I motioned to the medic to pull my sock off, since the sock wasn’t burned he just reached over & jerked the sock off & the top of my foot came off with it. The rubber boot had fuel on it & burned for a longer time & held the heat long enough to cook my foot without burning my sock.
I was the first patient to land on the new helipad at the Sheppard AFB hospital; I had an 8×10 color photo of them getting me off the chopper. The wing CO came to the hospital to visit the 4 of us & ask if he could do anything for us, I ask him if he would get me some photos of the crash. In a couple of days I had a large envelope full of 8×10 color photos. All of them were lost when I returned from Iceland in 1973.
The next day the fire alarm went off in the hospital, they had a small fire, I didn’t like that. A couple of days later a guy from the psych ward got outside & dove under the back wheels of a big truck & died. This was getting to be crazy place. One day the IP’s wife came to visit him & I had my left leg out from under the covers & she said you have red streaks moving up your leg, I started pushing the call button, I had blood poisoning & they had to get that under control. When I got well enough to get a wheelchair, I could go downstairs to the library. I had to keep my foot elevated all the time or it became very painful. Well I was sitting in the wheelchair with my foot up on one of the book shelves & the whole bookcase came away from the wall & fell on top of me books & all. I was glad to leave that place.”
Johan Ragay provided a copy of the official USAF Accident Report to read (click here)