SAIGON —The burning C130 plowed through the marsh. Landing gear, parts of the wings, nose and tail section flew in all directions.

The big plane burrowed into the muck, spun around, broke in two and whooshed up a whirlwind of debris and flames.

An army chopper pilot chasing the crippled C130 in his Cobra Gunship watched the crash and reported: "There's no way anybody is going to come out of there alive."

Later, all seven crew members scrambled or were helped out of the twisted wreckage.

Capt. Don B. Jensen, 28., of Provo, Utah, was the aircraft commander on the ammunition run to An Loc Tuesday. At his right was the co-pilot, Maj. Leigh Pratt.

Just before 12:30 p.m. Jensen worked his plane down from about 6,000 feet through heavy air traffic and began a low level run into An Loc.

"During the pullup just prior to dropping our cargo we started taking ground fire and our right wing caught fire," Jensen recalled.

Pratt and the flight engineer, T. Sgt. Ralph W. Kent, quickly scanned the maze of instruments.

The fuel to number four engine was shut off. "It would have to draw fuel by gravity," explained Kent. He said indicators also showed that number three engine had lost all oil.

In the cargo compartment S. Sgt. Ralph Bemis, loadmaster, peered out at the right wing and reported that number three was aflame and that the fire was spreading along the side of the plane and to the rear.

Up front Pratt, a veteran of nearly 13 years at the controls of C130s, had shut off number three. "Without oil the engine would soon freeze and the stress might tear the wing off the plane," he said.

Pratt jerked his head and listened. He had lost communication with Jensen.

But no matter. They stayed with "procedure." While Jensen "played" the number one and two engines, Pratt pushed number four to maximum power.

They got the plane up to 3,000 feet. "Not high enough to bail out," they said.

Then they increased air speed in an attempt to "blow out" the fire. That didn't, work.

Easing the plane earthward. while still in a left bank, the fliers aimed for a long stretch of marshland. Flames and smoke trailed the C130.

Overhead, Army Capt Don Gooch, a Cobra pilot from F Troop, 9th Cav. marveled as the big plane settled onto the ground in a three point landing and then began plowing through the marsh.

He watched the plane churn and spin and break in two and speculated that no one could survive the crash. He saw other choppers arriving over the scene.

Inside the C130 Jensen and Pratt pumped vainly, comically on the brake pedals. Bemis, S. Sgt. William C. Armstead, a loadmaster; and a Vietnamese loadmaster bounced around the cargo area.

Bemis slammed forward into a section near the front exit. Radios and supports and chains and earth buried him.

The plane finally crumpled to a stop and Kent slithered out of the top of the ship while Jensen wiggled his 200-pound frame through a window about 12 by 18 inches.

"Beautiful," said Pratt as he calmly unstrapped and followed Maj. Robert Kirkpatrick, the navigator, to help Bemis. Pratt spent 20 minutes digging out the injured airman.

Armstead, who initially aided Pratt, quit because of severe pain in both arms. He learned later that his left elbow had been shattered by a small arms round.

Suddenly the crew flinched as Gooch and other Cobra pilots opened up on Communist troops moving toward the fallen plane.

And now the crew spotted the rescue choppers and wondered, "Where the hell did you guys come from?"

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