My bailout occurred on April 6, 1966, during my training days at Udorn. While I was on my solo flight, my T-28 developed a rough engine. I tried to nurse it back to T-08 but the darn bird gave up 15 miles east of T-08 and forced me to abandon it.
I was at 4,500 feet when I bailed out. My weight was not more than 100 pounds and it took forever to reach the ground (close to 10 minutes). In the history of the Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF), I was the fifth pilot to bail out of a T-28 and the first one to succeed and survive. The other four guys before me did not have such luck.
The funny part was that I did not know how to turn the parachute around and the wind was blowing me away from the rice paddies towards the jungle, which I did not want to happen. I tried to pull on the cords on the front side but it accelerated me forward, so I pulled the cords at the back and it swung me back to the rice field. My plane hit the ground in a big ball of fire more than two miles away, burning up all the gas, leaving only the engine still burning (probably the oil) with me still hanging in the air only half way to the ground.
As I got close to my landing point I noticed all the villagers from Savang Daendin, with about 50 kids, were watching. Eventually I made a really smooth touch down and landed in a standing position. I still wonder how I did that, since it was my first and only jump. Now the problem was that my chute was down and the wind was dragging me. I had to run after the chute, but luckily all those kids jumped on the chute and saved me.
While I was surrounded by the villagers and the kids, an elderly man introduced himself as the village chief or Pho Ban and invited me to his house, which was just next to the rice paddy. By the time we got to the house one police officer and three policemen had arrived in a pickup truck to guard me. The head of the village gave me an unexpected impromptu Baci (tied my wrist with white cotton thread and wished me luck and health) and told his wife to bring out the food. But I was still too excited about my survival and could only drink some water.
The police officer offered to escort me back to Udorn Air Force Base and I told him that I had already radioed the tower before I bailed out. If, however, there was no response and no rescue I would let them take me back to Udorn. It kind of amazed them when they asked for my age and I told them I had just become 18 four days ago.
By that time I heard some airplanes screaming overhead, so I said we needed to go out to the rice field, because they were looking for me. Most of the planes saw my burning wrecked plane but failed to see me under their nose. First, a pair of F-4s passed over the wreckage and headed to Udorn. Then another pair did the same thing. Then came my classmates and their instructors. A flight of two was circling the crash site. A few minutes later another pair did the same thing and failed to see me just over two miles away. I told the police and the villagers to build a fire and put wet or green grass on it to make some smoke. At that time we did not carry any survival kit or radio, only our checklist and maps. I told the kids to spread out the chute with the orange side up. They did it with a lot of laughter and fun. Now four A-1s arrived, made low passes and circled the crash site. One of the A-1s made a low pass from the opposite direction and headed toward us and saw the smoke. He dipped down to our position, pulled up and rocked his wings. I stood by the chute holding my helmet and waved at him. Then the rest made low passes over me and headed back to Udorn.
Less than five minutes from the time the first A-1 saw me I heard the very familiar sound of the HH-43 Pedro. I had seen them take off and chase wounded birds on the runway all the time during run up and waiting for take off. It came over just above tree top and landed in the field. Again the kids had to jump on the chute when the downwash kicked it up. Two of the rescue crews jumped off the ramp. One ran to the chute to collect it while the other ran to pick me up. He put me on his shoulder and ran up the ramp. I had to slap his back and tell him to put me down, because I wanted to go back and thank the village chief and the police. As I bowed and prayed before the Chief to thank him I could see his tears running down and he wished me “Good luck sonny.”
I turned to the police, saluted, then shook their hands to thank them for guarding me. Lastly, I turned to all the villagers, bowed and prayed, and waved goodbye. As I turned back to the Pedro the rescue guy was right behind me all the time.
After a short hop we landed in front of the Tower. Major Bill Cox, my instructor who was duty officer that day, and other I/Ps, were waiting with the rest of my class. He put me on his shoulder and ran around the chopper three times before putting me down.
We got back to Det-1 Operations and briefing room for my debrief. Only then did I learn that General Thao Ma, RLAF Commander, was on his way from Savannakhet, or L-39, to congratulate me on my success.
That experience made me and the other RLAF pilots more confident about bailing out and trusting the chute. All in all, thanks to the “PEDRO” and the rescue crews for quick reaction and their readiness. After that incident we were issued radios, pen gun flares, a smoke grenade, a reflector mirror and a red/orange signal panel. My I/P gave me an extra battery and told me to eat more (to put on more weight) and told me that if it had happened in enemy territory I would have been a “Floating Duck.”