Narrative:C-5 Galaxy 68-0218 was the initial mission of Operation Babylift to bring Vietnamese orphans to the US in the few remaining days before the Republic of Vietnam fell. The C-5 departed Saigon-Tan Son Nhut Airport at 16:03. Twelve minutes after takeoff, after climbing through FL230, there was what seemed to be an explosion as the lower rear fuselage was torn apart. The locks of the rear loading ramp had failed, causing the door to open and separate. A rapid decompression occurred. Control and trim cables to the rudder and elevators were severed, leaving only one aileron and wing spoilers operating. Two of the four hydraulic systems were out. The crew wrestled at the controls, managing to keep control of the plane with changes in power settings by using the one working aileron and wing spoilers. The crew descended to an altitude of 4,000 feet on a heading of 310 degrees in preparation for landing on Tan Son Nhut's runway 25L. About halfway through a turn to final approach, the rate of descent increased rapidly to 4,000 feet per minute. Seeing they couldn't make the runway, full power was applied to bring the nose up. At 50 feet, the throttles where retarded to idle and the C-5 touched down in a rice paddy. Skidding about 1,000 feet, the aircraft again became airborne for a half mile before hitting a dike and breaking into four parts. The cargo compartment was completely destroyed, killing 141 of the 149 orphans and attendants. Only three of 152 in the troop compartment perished. Five of the flight crew, three of the medical team, and three others lost their lives, but 173 of the 328 aboard survived.
Cargo door failure
» Air Force Magazine, Aug. 1991
This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not
display the exact flight path.
Distance from Saigon-Tan Son Nhat International Airport to Angeles City-Clark Air Base as the crow flies is 1574 km (984 miles).
This information is not presented as the Flight Safety Foundation or the Aviation Safety Network’s opinion as to the cause of the accident. It is preliminary and is based on the facts as they are known at this time.