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Update: 29 Jan 23
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U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
Gilbert Allan Rovito, Captain, USAF (KIA)July 19, 1948 – June 14, 1973
On June 14, 1973, a U.S. Air Force helicopter HH-53C (tail number 68-10362) from the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron with a crew of five was participating in a rescue mission. The crew included pilot 1st Lt. Gilbert A. Rovito, co-pilot 1st Lt. Francis E. Meador, flight engineer MSgt. David V. McLeod, and Pararescuemen Sgt. Karl Morgan and Sgt. Stephen Caldwell. The aircraft had just completed aerial refueling and, as it backed away from the HC-130 tanker, suddenly pitched up as it lost its tail rotor blade. The aircraft then pitched down and entered an uncontrolled spiraling descent, impacting into the Tonle Sap Lake in an inverted position. The wreckage lay in water only about two feet deep. The force of the impact left the aircraft fuselage buried about five feet deep into the lake’s silt bottom. About three to four feet of the aircraft projected above the water. The aircraft was an altitude of about 7000 feet when the incident occurred. During its descent, two of the crew, both Pararescuemen, successfully parachuted from the aircraft. They landed in the lake and were recovered by the accompanying HH-53. After pick-up, the aircraft overflew the wreckage searching for survivors. Finding none, and lacking the equipment to continue the search, the aircraft returned to its home base in Thailand. The pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer were unaccounted for. The HC-130 stayed on station overnight. The next day search and rescue (SAR) forces returned to the site with rafts, scuba gear, and additional assorted equipment. The aircraft was inverted in the water. The tail rotor had separated and was approximately 150 feet from the fuselage. An engine was located about 20 feet from the wreckage. The paramedics were unable to enter the cockpit of the aircraft as it was buried in the muddy bottom. They did recover the body of the co-pilot; it was located outside the wreckage on his side of the aircraft. On June 17, 1973, SAR forces were aided by a CH-53 helicopter. It was able to extract the fuselage of the downed helicopter from the lake and subsequently took it to the airport in Phnom Penh. Where the cockpit was extracted from the lake bottom, the body of the pilot was recovered. The body of MSgt. McLeod was never located. This incident was an operational loss as no hostile action was noted in the area. [Taken from coffeltdatabase.org and vhpa.org]
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