0900 hours on 5 December, 1969, Capt. Benjamin Danielson and Lt. Woodrow
Bergeron departed Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam for a mission in Central
Laos. Their McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom fighter, serial number 63-7444,
call-sign "Boxer-22", was the number two aircraft in the flight.
The lead aircraft, another F-4C with the call-sign
"Boxer-21", was piloted by Maj. Joseph Young. Their mission, to
drop MK-36 anti-personnel mines along the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail, was altered
after failed contact with the Forward Air Controller (FAC). They were then
diverted northward to a trail-target near Ban Phanop, 20 miles south of
the Mu-Gia Pass in Laos, a notorious entry-point to the Trail from
mission progressed as briefed and the two Phantoms arrived in the assigned
target area without incident. The flight then came under the control of a
FAC, call-sign "Nail", orbiting in a OV-10 Bronco.
"Boxer-21" was cleared in first and dropped his mines
successfully on the trail. After
observing "Boxer-21's" strike, "Nail" cleared in
Danielson initiated a steep dive on his target and released his ordinance.
Immediately after his drop the aircraft was hit hard by AAA fire
and pitched into an uncontrollable state. Within seconds the crew ejected
from the Phantom directly over the target area. The aircraft continued
earthward until it impacted on the karst valley in a fireball 2,600 feet
crew ejected approximately 4,000 feet southwest of Ban Phanop village in
Khammouane Province, Laos. Previously the area had undergone extensive
bombing and little vegetation was left for cover except for the steep
elevated karst areas and along the Nam Ngo River valley. The two survivors
elected to remain near their chutes as it was the only area with foliage,
affording protective concealment. Both men established radio contact after
landing 35 meters apart from each other on opposite sides of the river.
Danielson contacted "Boxer-21" and informed them that he and Lt.
Bergeron were both in good shape. Search and Recovery (SAR) efforts were
immediately initiated. About
35 minutes later SAR aircraft arrived and began a full-scale recovery
effort. Capt. Danielson's
was revealed to the North Vietnamese after he had deployed a smoke marker
for the first rescue helicopter. The Communists opened a withering fire,
driving the severely damaged helicopter away. Six subsequent attempts to
extract the men by the SAR teams. Each time, the helicopter was hit by
ground fire and had to abandon its rescue effort.
At 1848 hrs the rescue efforts on the first day were officially
December 6th, rescue efforts for the second day commenced at 0600 hours. At 0700, Lt. Bergeron reported hearing excited voices across
the river, followed by a burst of automatic weapons fire and a scream from
the pilot. Lt. Bergeron was
unable to effect any further communication with Capt. Danielson and
presumed him dead or captured. The valley was bombed and strafed for over
five hours while Lt. Bergeron remained hidden in a bamboo thicket.
All further pickup attempts were unsuccessful and rescue efforts
ceased at dusk.
December 7th at 0850 hours, rescue attempts commenced. This time
"Sandy-1", the on-scene commander, ordered the area sanitized
with smoke, 20mm, CBU-30s, and heavy ordnance for three hours. By 1140
hrs, twenty-two A-1 Skyraiders circled the Nam Ngo River valley to protect
the Jolly Green JG-77 helicopter and suppress the blistering enemy
anti-aircraft fire. As the
Jolly began its descent on the east side of the river, Lt. Bergeron dashed
out as the helicopter lowered a rescue collar which he rapidly grabbed and
was successfully hoisted aboard. Having eluded capture for over 50 hours
and after 16 failed rescue efforts, Bergeron found himself en-route to
Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand.
entire SAR mission of 5-7 December would eventually become the largest
rescue effort ever launched by the USAF, with some 336 sorties.
Known in USAF annuals simply as "Boxer-22", the 51-hour
ordeal resulted in five A-1 Skyraiders receiving heavy damage, and five of
the ten HH-53 Super Jolly's sustained so much damage by ground fire that
they were later scrapped.