The Mayaguez Incident
After the fall of Cambodia and South Vietnam to the Communists, Cambodian forces
captured the US-registered ship SS MAYAGUEZ, taking her to the offshore island of Koh Tang. President Gerald
Ford directed that the ship should be recaptured and her crew freed by use of force.
The USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43) battle group and an assault group from the 9th Marines were directed to land on the
island and retake the ship and crew. Although intelligence estimates indicated that the island was lightly
held, in fact there were a considerable number of Cambodian troops in place - and they had hand-held weapons
suitable for use against helicopters.
The Marines staged through U-Tapao RTAFB in Thailand and were landed by USAF CH-53A helicopters. As the helicopters
approached shore, the aircraft were taken under fire and four were brought down.
- One had offloaded troops - ditched offshore; crew was picked up.
- One went down in the surfline and all aboard made it ashore.
- One went down in the surfline with a single casualty.
- One went down offshore; 11 Marines - 2 Navy Corpsmen lost.
On May 13, at 2030 local time, 16 Sikorsky CH-53Cs took off from Nakhon Phanom to be flown from Nakon Phanom Royal
Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), to U-Tapao. Shortly after take off, one of the helicopters, from the 56th Security Police
Squadron, part of the 56th Special Operations Wing (Tail number 68-10933 with call sign "Knife 13") fell out of formation,
crashed and exploded on impact.
Other CH-53s landed nearby, but exploding ammunition and burning fuel hindered all rescue attempts.
The CH-53 crashed in the Phannanikhom District, 35 miles west of Nakhon Phanom. Officially, the CH-53C was on a routine
training mission, but all those killed in the crash were posthumously awarded the Bronze Star.
To this day, the cause of the crash has not been established with certainty. According to some sources, the crash was
due to a technical malfunction. One source claims that one of the main rotorblades separated from the rotorhead,
while others claim that the crash was due to enemy action. The whole truth about the crash may never be known.
All 23 aboard, including four crew, 18 USAF security police and one linguist, were killed in the crash. They were:
- 21st Special Operations Squadron aircrew:
- 56th Security Police Squadron:
- Sgt Jimmy P. Black, Daphne, Alabama
- Sgt Bobby G. Collums, Helena, Arizona
- SSgt Gerald A. Coyle, Bentleyville, Pennsylvania
- Sgt Thomas D. Dwyer, Middlebury, Connecticut
- Sgt Bob W. Ford, Seminole, Texas
- Sgt Gerald W. Fritz, Junction, Texas
- TSgt Jackie D. Glenn, Seymour, Missouri
- Sgt Darrell L. Hamlin, Iowa City, Iowa
- Sgt Gregory L. Hankamer, San Pedro, California
- Sgt David A. Higgs, Spokane, Washington
- SSgt Faleagafula Ilaoa, San Francisco, California
- Sgt Michael D. Lane, Jacksonville, Florida
- Sgt Dennis W. London, Sparks, Nevada
- Sgt Robert P. Mathias, Granada Hills, California
- Sgt William R. McKelvey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Amn Edgar C. Moran, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Sgt Tommy R. Nealis, Mount Sterling, Kentucky
- Sgt Paul J Raber, Port Angeles, Washington
- Sgt Robert W. Ross, Cypress, California
The Daily News, Port Angeles, Washington, published the following article on
September 3rd, 1975 titled: Bronze Star is awarded Air Force Sgt
"Paul J. Raber, 21, of Port Angeles has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal posthumously for his actions in Thailand from
July 31, 1974 to May 12, 1975. Sergeant Raber died in a helicopter crash in May two months before his duty in Thailand
was to end. According to the citation, Raber distinguished himself by "meritorious service as a CH53 helicopter mechanic
while engaged in ground operations against an opposing armed force at Nakhon Phanon Royal Thai Air Force Base. During
this period Sergeant Raber was called upon to assist in the rescue of the crew members of the merchant ship Mayagues
being held by hostile forces....By his heroic actions and unselfish dedication to duty....Sergeant Raber has reflected
great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force." His immediate family includes his mother Margie Raber of Port
Angeles and Freeman Raber of Eden Valley; brothers Steve and Bruce and sister Beverly, all of Port Angeles."
Another source, the afsf.lackland.af.mil site says in part "Later, all those killed were posthumously awarded the
Bronze Star for Valor."