|Rolfe Hunt’s hair-raising tale of cutting things just a little too close in Elephant Valley!|
By Rolfe Hunt
©1999 Rolfe Hunt, All Rights Reserved.I served with Major Wheeler, Hostage Nan, in VMO-2 at the time he was shot down. A great guy and somewhat unusual among us OV-10 drivers – to me he seemed kind, gentle, thoughtful, dedicated to his family. Igor was also in VMO-2 at that time so knew him.
A little sidelight: Captain Chuck Hatch was the AO shot down with him. Chuck spent a couple of nights on the ground with the bad guys beating the bushes all around him before he was finally rescued. He took a week or two off from flying then went back at it with me as pilot on his first flight back in action.
While we were doing a photo mission near the east end of Elephant Valley, we were called to support a recon team out in “Yankee Charlie” company, the area of YC map coordinates west toward the Laotian border. A low ceiling covered the tops of the mountains on both sides of the valley but rather than go around the long way I chose to go through the tunnel formed by the mountains on the side and the clouds overhead (flying VFR of course and with poor radio contact down in the valley). Fortunately I knew this valley like the back of my hand because after we were committed – not enough room to turn around – it began to rain. The OV-10 windshield wiper seems quite busy but does little good. I could see nothing but the rain whitened windshield.
I knew the valley just ahead dog-legged a little to the left so I hesitated a moment, made a slight turn and went to full power to climb straight ahead down the valley and punch up through the clouds. Just as I turned I heard Chuck yelling in the back seat over the sound of the engines at full power. Then he keyed the intercom and I realized he was yelling, “Rocks! Rocks!” Sure enough, a few feet off the right wing were the huge rain blackened rocks of the valley wall. My guess at where to turn had been correct but just barely. I went on the gauges and continued the climb straight ahead and contacted control for an IFR clearance.
We completed the mission with the recon team and returned home safely, but that was Chuck’s last flight as an AO. Having cheated death on two flights in a row, he quit and went back to tanks.
Maybe he’s online with us now and can add to this or correct any errors my memory allows after almost 30 years. He was one of the best of our AO’s. I flew with him many times and enjoyed knowing and working with him in the air ground team.