Colonel Traynor Recalls the Operation Babylift C-5A Galaxy Crash

April 4, 2014

This true account given by Col. Dennis “Bud” Traynor was posted by him on April 4, 2014, 39 years to the day of the tragic crash of a USAF C-5A Galaxy occurred outside of Saigon during the initial stages of Operation Babylift. Operation Babylift was the effort by thousands of volunteers from civilian agencies, Catholic Services, Holt International, and of course the United States Air force and and other military operatives, to take endangered orphans out of Saigon prior to the Communist invasion, and put them into the safety of loving homes across the world.

Colonel Dennis “Bud” Traynor (USAF Ret.)

Thirty-nine years ago today, history was forever changed for you and for me. North Vietnamese soldiers were within miles of Saigon, poised for the inevitable capture of the city. There was great fear and trepidation on the part of the many who had opposed the Northern regime. Soldiers, airmen, and families were desperate to escape by any means possible.

Earlier that day, I was advised that despite the C-5 being a large-target risk, I would be taking my large load of howitzers directly into Saigon – unusual for the C-5 in those days since the introduction of the hand-held SA-7 shoulder-fired missile. 
An hour or so later, I was further advised that I was to take out of Saigon as many evacuees as possible – floor-loading all that would fit. 

Some of you were prepped to be evacuated and delivered to my aircraft that day.

[Ramp inside aircraft] While this return mission was anything but routine, the takeoff and departure was. However, twelve minutes after takeoff, uneven loading on the ramp locks on the right side of the aircraft, caused them to fail – under the load of pressurization – with catastrophic consequences.

[Drawing of ramp] When the ramp locks failed on the right side of the aircraft, the forward edge of the ramp entered the slipstream which in-turn split the pressure door top to bottom. The resulting departure of the pressure door cut all of the flight control cables to the tail and bled dry two of the four hydraulic systems.

[Route of flight] The rapid decompression was at 23,000 feet. 
A side note: This isn’t terribly high in terms of being able to breath. At that altitude, a person would still have about half the oxygen present at sea level. Nevertheless, while mountain climbers have summited Everest (~29,000) without supplemental oxygen, to be sure, after 5 or 6 minutes, you and I, who haven’t trained to work in thin air, would be MUCH more comfortable and clear-headed breathing supplemental oxygen. And of course, the RD itself could cut useful thinking time in half. But I digress.

[Search pattern] In keeping with all the coverage of the Malaysian Flight 370 search efforts, I thought some of you might find interesting the efforts that were made to find the “black box” from the C-5 that ejected itself in response to the shock of the ramp and pressure door ripping out the back of the aircraft.

[Salvaged ramp] The rear ramp and black box were recovered and the ramp was reassembled during the ensuing investigation to determine what caused the doors to blow out. ~Captain Bud Traynor

The C-5A Galaxy clipped a tree and what would have been a soft landing in a rice paddy outside of Saigon because a crash landing which caused the airplane to disintegrate upon impact. Because Captain Traynor was able to nurse the disabled plane to a landing position, despite the mishap, hundreds of lives of orphans, crew, and volunteers were saved which would have otherwise been lost on April 4, 1975.  Approximately 140 people died in the crash including 78 Vietnamese orphans. Hundreds lived, however, many of whom gather yearly to memorialize their friends and the babies lost and to commemorate the largest humanitarian airlift in history, Operation Babylift.

See the complete account by Colonel Traynor in “Airlift Tanker Quarterly”

Saving the Vietnamese Orphans” is the true story of Operation Babylift written in a moving children’s book and can be purchased through all online book sellers.

posted by Marjorie Haun  4/4/14


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