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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 158706
Last updated: 12 February 2021
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Type:Silhouette image of generic A6 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Grumman A-6A Intruder
Owner/operator:VMA(AW)-224 USMC
Registration: 155652
C/n / msn: I-378
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:near Ban Bamram, near DMZ, 10 miles into Savannakhet Province -   Laos
Phase: Combat
Departure airport:USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), off coast of Vietnam
Destination airport:USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), off coast of Vietnam
A-6A Intruder BuNo. 155652/'NL-505' (call sign BENGAL 505) of VMA(AW)-224, US Marine Corps, from CVA-43 on board the USS Coral Sea. Lost on combat operations on April 9, 1972 when Hit by AAA near the DMZ, near Ban Bamram, 10 miles into Savannakhet Province, Laos, at approximate co ordinates 16'48.00"N 106'29.00"E. Their aircraft, loaded with 12 Mk 82s and a dozen Rockeyes, was carrying out a dive-bombing attack when its port wing was hit by flak/AAA.

Both crew - Major Clyde D. Smith (pilot) and 1st Lt Scott Douglas Ketchie (Bombardier/Navigator) - ejected, Pilot, Major Clyde D. Smith landed next to the burning wreckage. The flames were intense causing the remaining bombs on the Intruder to cook off with shrapnel flying everywhere. Within minutes he heard his wing man pass overhead. He triggered his emergency beeper and made a voice Mayday call, but heard no response. However, what Major Smith was not aware of at the time, all onsite aircraft immediately switched from their strike mission to a visual and electronic search and rescue (SAR) operation and the other pilots reported clearly hearing two beeper signals emitting from the dense jungle below. Further, using direction orienting equipment on board their aircraft, they were able to pinpoint both men's position.

In his post-rescue debriefing, Major Smith said that in the first minutes after reaching the ground "the sun had just set and it was very dark. There was a lot of noise close by. I assumed it was Scott and almost called out. Somebody or something was moving through the woods in a hurry. About an hour later, I heard shouting and several shots. At that moment I felt certain that he had been captured."

He added, "About 2200 hours, I heard another aircraft nearby and turned on my beeper. A voice speaking perfect English came up on the rescue frequency. He came in clearly, sounded very close, and asked me where I was." I replied, "I'm in the vicinity of the wreckage." To which the voice said, "We'll be there in a few minutes." Clyde Smith continued, "It was totally dark by then, and we had been briefed that no rescues were ever attempted at night. I asked him his call sign, but there was no answer. Nothing like that happened again."

The Intruder continued to burn all night. Major Smith listened to the NVA trucks as they negotiated what sounded like a very rough road. At first light the trucks stopped running. The downed pilot heard people moving about all around him. For the first time he could see that he was in an open area on the side of a small ridge lying against some elephant grass four to five feet high. As soon as he felt it was safe to do so, Major Smith moved into the dense foliage at the bottom of the gully where he remained hidden for the next four days.

At roughly 09:00 hours on April 10, 1972 he heard an OV-10 aircraft overhead. After establishing radio contact, Clyde Smith learned the pilot was a Nail FAC specifically searching for Scott Ketchie and him. Shortly thereafter the SAR element with fighter support arrived overhead. Enemy ground fire was intense and all aircraft took a tremendous amount of fire from a large number of AAA sites. "Listening to these professionals calmly going about their job under fire," Clyde Smith remembered, "was something that would stay with me for the rest of my life."

Over the next three days, weather conditions and enemy ground fire made a successful rescue attempt impossible. Early in the morning of the fourth day, 13 April 1972, Major Smith learned there was another massive rescue mission under way some 35 miles east of his location for Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, the navigator of an EB-66, call sign "Bat 21," that had been shot down on 2 April 1972 during the early stages of the NVA's Easter Offensive. He also took great comfort when he heard Nail 45 proclaim, "It looks good, I think we can do a good tune on you today." Over the next four to five hours there was non-stop bombing and constant chatter on the radio as Navy, Air Force and Marine aircraft worked to dismantle the communist fortifications surrounding Clyde Smith.

About 17:00 hours, Sandy 01, the SAR commander, told Major Smith to get ready and stay up on the radio because the rescue helicopter was 5 minutes out. At that stage in the rescue effort Sandy 01 had a total of 7 other Sandy A-1s, 3 or 4 FACs who were controlling 10 to 15 fighters that were suppressing the AAA sites, and 2 Jolly Green rescue helicopters in a holding area 10 miles away.

Overall a combination of 25 to 30 rotary, fixed-wing propeller driven and fast moving jet aircraft were operating in a confined airspace for over an hour dropping all kinds of bombs, rockets, smoke, and cluster munitions. Sandy 01 orchestrated the whole operation, and as Major Smith recounted, "to the credit of everyone involved, not one life or aircraft was lost and no one hit the survivor on the ground!" To his delight, Clyde Smith heard Major Jim Harding, Sandy 01, tell Sandy 02, "Go get Jolly 32 (the lead Air Force rescue helicopter) and bring him in." Capt. Ben Orrell, pilot, 1st Lt. Jim Casey, co-pilot; Sgt. Bill Brinson, crew chief; AM1 Bill Liles door gunner/winch operator; and AM1 Kenneth Cakebread, door gunner; comprised the crew of Jolly Green 32.

As Sandy 02 led the helicopter forward, the pilot fired smoke rockets to mark the downed pilot's hiding place. At the same time Jolly Green 32 began its run-in, enemy gunners opened up with everything they had available. Bill Brinson manned the mini-gun at the helicopter's back ramp while Bill Liles and Kenneth Cakebread manned each of the doors mini-guns. As the helicopter maneuvered over Major Smith's position, Sandy 01 transmitted, "Pull up Jolly, pull up, you're right over the survivor." Neither Capt. Orrell nor any of the other crewmen could spot him. Clyde Smith popped a flare, but the helicopter's downwash pushed the red smoke down into the gully. He flipped the flare over and ignited the night end, which immediately showered him with sparks. When Jolly Green 32's crew still could not find him, Clyde Smith moved upslope and into the open. At the top of the ridge he could see the aircraft's rotor blades cutting off tops of trees and slinging them in every directions.

Finally in all the chaos, Bill Liles spotted Clyde Smith, and said, "I got him, I got him!" Capt. Orrell told him to lower the hoist. As the penetrator neared the ground, Major Smith grabbed it with one hand and snapped the climber's snaplink on his torso harness to the cable. Immediately he felt a tug on his harness as AM1 Liles took up the slack. When Major Smith reached the door, Bill Liles rolled him into the hovering aircraft and said, "Get the hell out of the way" as he swung the mini-gun back into the door opening and began firing in the direction that Clyde Smith had come from. Almost simultaneously, AM1 Liles told Capt. Orrell, "He's in the door, let's get the hell out of here!" As the helicopter pulled away, 4 Sandy's rolled in to deliver non-stop fire against the NVA on the ground. Ninety minutes later, Jolly Green 32 landed at Nakhon Phanom Airbase.

Some time during the first day or so of the SAR operation, 1st Lt. Ketchie's emergency radio stopped transmitting. When voice or beeper contact with him could not be reestablished over the duration of the rescue effort for Clyde Smith, the search was terminated and 1st Lt Ketchie was carried as Missing in Action until the Secretary of the Navy approved a Presumptive Finding of Death on March 5, 1979. His remains have not been repatriated.

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 5 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Battalion 12 element …shot into flames an aircraft. The pilot parachuted to the southwest. At command post for Battalion we (vic. Of route 914, south of Tha Me, 1623N 10636E), … prepared to search and capture the pilot and … prepared to strike at rescue forces. ….. At 1530G did the 10th AAA Battalion appeared to burst into flames. If so, report immediately. A SAM Battalion of the 263rd SAM Regiment ….. shot down one aircraft. On 10 April, an unidentified SAM site in the western DMZ area ….. had captured one pilot."


1. A-6 Intruder Units of the Vietnam War By Rick Morgan

Revision history:

20-Aug-2013 09:00 Uli Elch Added
20-Aug-2013 09:40 Uli Elch Updated [Date, Registration, Cn, Operator, Total fatalities, Location, Country, Narrative]
24-Mar-2016 13:39 Dr.John Smith Updated [Time, Operator, Other fatalities, Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]
24-Mar-2016 13:41 Dr.John Smith Updated [Location]
27-Dec-2019 22:00 stehlik49 Updated [Operator, Operator]

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