There I Was
by
Jim Traywick

There I Was.....

I want to say it was in AIRMAN'S magazine. But, after so many years I'm not sure.  It was a comic strip which related aviation stories with the title, "There I  Was..."  The stories were based on true incidents involving military aviation. Some were hilarious!  Some just a little bizarre. ALL interesting!  The story I'm about to relate made that comic strip series and it was accurately portrayed. Of course it happened at TAKHLI or I wouldn’t be putting it on this web site!

I don't remember the exact date it happened. I was TDY to Takhli from Cannon AFB, to work the F-111A aircraft from December 1972 to June 1973. I had just left Korat, Thailand in May of 1972 only to return to Takhli that December. That meant driving my wife and three month old daughter back to Alabama to live with my mother while I was off in Thailand. Not the best of situations. But I was a military man and that was my job.
F-111C from http://f-111.net
The day that this event occurred I was supposed to be the NCOIC of the End-of-Runway checks. A last chance check before the aircraft took the active runway and departed on a combat sortie. It seems that a certain other Staff Sergeant had incurred the wrath of the Flight Chief and he was given that assignment for the night. I remained the "row chief" for the flight on the "back row" of jets. I think I had nine or ten of those hummers to manage in addition to crewing my own jet! Including the aircraft at the center of this story.

As the schedule permitted I went to chow with another crew chief. It was a dark walk to the Takhli chow hall on the back side of base. After an hour I returned and passed a revetment with a crew chief sitting on his tool box playing a slow tune on a harmonica and watching the bugs around the light-all. I inquired about his aircraft launch and if everything went well.  He said it had and the aircraft should be taking the active within the next five to ten minutes. I always worried about this guy because he never talked much. Never socialized with anyone that I knew of. He was strange!

I entered my revetment and took off my shirt and hung it up on the wall. Looking into the 781 forms for my jet I was engrossed in the various corrective actions and had started to pull the forms when an odd sound distracted me. WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP!

The sound came from the direction of the runway. I turned and saw an orange glow in the night sky over the top of the front row of revetment walls. I could not imagine what was causing this and wondered if Hanoi Hanna might not have made good on her promise. She had recently made threats against Takhli with some vague time line of "When the rice is tall, Takhli will fall."  Well that was the barracks rumor anyway.  I never heard the woman personally. And it seemed that rice was always tall in one paddy or another around Takhli. Who could guess that riddle?? If in fact it was authentic.

I walked to a gap between revetment walls on the front row and entered a revetment with an aircraft parked in it. There was an aircrew standing by the revetment wall to the aircraft left.  They were peering intently around the corner and not exposing themselves beyond the steel wall. I couldn't stand the suspense and walked past them to see what the hell had their attention. There it was.....

Between the active runway and the taxiway was an F-111A completely silhouetted by flames. It was as if it had taxied into a grass fire accidentally. A strange tableau to be sure!  I noticed that both canopies were open and flames sparkled through the clear hatches.  I gazed almost hypnotically at this strange image.

From the darkness a fire truck rolled up to the far side of the aircraft. The fire suppression boom resembling a huge shower head swung around and foam began to spray. Maybe five seconds or ten seconds later the first explosion erupted.  I saw the front of the fire truck turn to so much smashed glass and red metal. They backed away and never came back!

The explosion lifted me off my feet. It was numbing and got my attention. An expediter truck moved forward a few feet and stopped in front of me. As he stopped a fragment struck the side of the vehicle. Had he not moved forward he would have most likely been eviscerated by the metal fragment - it was bent on destruction! We were both in line at one point for that object.

Out in the area just past the parking ramp was a Security Police bunker. The guy in it was terrified. I could hear him screaming to get out of there and go to the area behind the revetments, but he was as safe or more safe than anyone on the ramp at that moment. As much as he screamed no one really paid any attention to him.

I left the front row and returned to my work area to evacuate my crew chiefs to a safe place.  I ran from revetment to revetment as more explosions occurred.  I couldn't find a single maintenance person on that entire length of flightline.  I spotted two figures kneeling at the end of the backside of the front row and made my way to them.  It was two Security Policemen.  They were squatted down and waiting it out.  As I approached one of them cautioned me not to pass the walls.  I had no intention of doing that.  As he spoke another explosion erupted and we could hear pieces fly by our position. It was like mad hornets only high overhead.

As I left them I was determined to locate my people.  I walked past all the revetments and shoved a flashlight into each dark area and behind the blast shields. No one was there.

I made my way off the flightline and up to what we affectionately called the "Roach Coach."  There they were.  All of them.  Sitting under picnic tables, eating hot dogs and drinking beer. They figured correctly that nothing else was going to happen that night as long as the aircraft was still burning.  It was a sight to behold.  They would crouch down and go to the order window and shout their order.  The young Thai man who was running the place took their orders, filled them, took their money, gave them change and never exposed more of himself than his arm! It looked like something from the "Adams Family" television show.

With all my crew chiefs accounted for I returned to the flightline and went to front row again. I had to see what was happening there.  As I ducked through a gap between the steel walls, the largest explosion of all occurred.  It must have been at least three of the 500 pound bombs at once. It made my stomach hurt it was so loud.  I saw a bright white flash and an object launched toward the sky - rapidly departing the earth followed by the fantastic explosion.  I could swear that piece is still in orbit.

One observation I was able to make while on the front row was the appearance of "Big Bertha" the crash recovery crane.  There she was half way down the taxiway from the fire department and at a dead stop. I was to learn later that the dedicated crash recovery crew mobilized and headed for the F-111 as it was burning.  They stopped and waited for instructions.  When the big blast occurred they turned her off and slept the rest of the night in the cab - nothing they could do.

Smaller explosions occurred as the night wore on. An occasional 500 pounder cooked off, but it slowed down to simple flames as the F-111 melted into a hulk of twisted metal. As the sun came up and I looked at it for the last time, all there was recognizable was two engine tail feather sections and a dump mast. Everything else was so much trash.

I caught the shuttle bus which was running again and went back to the hooch area.  I entered my little two man NCO cubicle finding my room mate semi conscious but hung over. It was hot in there and the fan simply stirred the hot air. As he raised himself up on his elbow he inquired if we managed to get any of the aircraft fixed last night on night shift.

I looked at his sleepy face. He was totally oblivious to the explosions which had occurred all night. For all he knew it was a thunderstorm if he heard it at all. The Singha had whipped his brain into total submission!

"Yeah, we fixed one.  We fixed it real good!"

My room mate made some disparaging remark and collapsed again. I looked at the painting of my little girl on the wall and thanked God I would most likely see her again after all. Then I had to go to the hooch bar and have a few. It had been a very long night.

THE AIRCREW?  Well, it seems that our heroes exited stage left and took off running so hard and so fast they had to be chased down by a Security Police jeep. They were headed as far and as fast away from that jet as they could. Can't blame them!

THE EOR CREW?  The Staff Sergeant who was assigned the duty related a most interesting story of objects tumbling, spinning, and rolling toward the end of runway.  Most remarkable was what he thought was a 55 gallon drum which in fact turned out to be a 500 pound bomb casing split open. It fell short and rolled like a big ugly toy to a stop just short of the ditch which they were using for cover. He said from that day forward his conduct was going to be exemplary - no more EOR for him.

THE AIRCRAFT? The cause was determined to be a broken lateral beam strut which collapsed the aircraft onto one side of the lateral beam.  High speed take off wouldn't allow for recovery until after it had spun nose around tail. The WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP sounds was the after burner as it passed three times in the process and before the aircrew could effect engine shut down and egress.

OTHER DAMAGE? None. All we had to do was sweep the ramp, inspect the aircraft and start flying. (Well, one expediter truck was slightly dented.)

THE SP IN THE BUNKER? He was peeled out of the corner, sedated and given a nice job off the flightline.

BOMB COUNT?  The score was eighteen of twenty four 500 pound bombs cooked off that night.

THE HOT DOG MAN?  He made money!



Jim Traywick
traywick@ite.net

The Traywick Connection

F-111C photo by Bayliss from
the F-111 Website

Main Takhli Web Page
Main TLCB Web Page

17 March 1999