The tragic crash of C-5A Galaxy Number 68-0218 during Operation Babylift

The tragic crash of C-5A Galaxy Number 68-0218 during Operation Babylift

By Dario Leone
Apr 3 2023
Share this article

Tragically, the most widely publicized C-5 flight occurred on Apr. 4, 1975, when C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 (S/N 0021) crashed during “Operation Babylift.”

As the Air Force’s largest strategic airlifter, the C-5 Galaxy can carry more cargo farther distances than any other aircraft. With a payload of six Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) or up to five helicopters, the C-5 can haul twice as much cargo as any other airlifter.

Lockheed delivered the first operational C-5A Galaxy to the 437th Airlift Wing, Charleston AFB, South Carolina, in June 1970.

The Galaxy entered operational service the same year and has been a vital asset in every military operation since that time including the Vietnam War.

Tragically, the most widely publicized C-5 flight occurred on Apr. 4, 1975, when C-5A 68-0218 (S/N 0021) crashed during “Operation Babylift.” With North Vietnamese forces closing on Saigon, the U.S. was airlifting orphaned children and infants out of the combat zone. As told by Richard Lippincott in his book C-5 Galaxy In Action, the aircraft had taken off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base (AB) with 328 people on board, reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, and was already over water when the rear cargo ramp broke loose.

The tragic crash of C-5A Galaxy Number 68-0218 during Operation Babylift
Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, on Apr. 4, 1975. The plane minutes later crashed off the end of the runway. Officials said the plane crashed one mile off the runway after the pressurization failed. The plane carried 180 passengers and a crew of 12. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS via This Day in Aviation

Captain Keith D. Malone, who was in the cockpit on his initial “check ride” in the C-5, described it as a “classic rapid decompression.” He recalled, “Ironically, we had just concluded a conversation about what we would do in case there was a rapid decompression. We decided that we would go into a left descending turn and get down as quickly as possible.” One of the medical technicians on board described the experience in 1989 Military Airlift Command Office of History; Coy F. Cross II, MAC and Operation Bablylift: Air Transport in Support of Noncombatant Evacuation Operations: “You could see it. You could see the hole in the back of the plane. You could see sunlight streaming in. Things started flying around. Eyeglasses. Pens. . . . That went on for a little while until the air stopped.” Then-Lieutenant Regina Aune later stated, “It was while I was getting the medication out of the medication box we had the rapid decompression. I never got back down stairs.” The air rushing from the aircraft “blew off’ the aft pressure door, part of the aft loading ramp and the aft center cargo door. As these parts flew off, one of them severed the pitch trim, elevator, and rudder cables.

This left the flight crew with no control over the rudder or horizontal stabilizer surfaces. Aircraft commander Capt. Dennis “Bud” Traynor and copilot Capt. Tilford Harp used the only control method still available: asymmetric thrust of the engines. By boosting power on one wing, and cutting back on the other, they turned around and got back over land.

Following the decompression, the crew donned their oxygen masks, began a left-descending tum. then notified flight controllers in Saigon of their condition and their return to Tan Son Nhut AB for an emergency landing. They noticed that the pressure and the quantity in the number one and two hydraulic systems read zero. Also, the pilot noted a lack of pitch control. He asked the copilot to help with the pitch, but the copilot had no pitch control either. “We had one system powering the right aileron, that was an.” Malone later recalled. He then explained: “The only reason that without elevators we didn’t go into an immediate dive that we could never get out of was that when we had the RD [rapid decompression] and the cables were severed and the hydraulic power lost, the elevators were trimmed for 260 knots which was our climb speed.” He continued, “Therefore, as long as we stayed at 260 knots the aircraft would fly. If we got higher than that the aircraft would climb, if we got lower it would descend.”

The tragic crash of C-5A Galaxy Number 68-0218 during Operation Babylift
Wreckage of C-5A 68-0218 (S/N 0021). (NPR) via This Day in Aviation

During the left descending turn the airspeed increased to 370 knots and nose of the C-5 began to rise. The aircraft then started a steep climb, and the airspeed dropped. To avoid a stall, Captain Traynor banked to the right and reduced power. When the aircraft began a steep dive, the pilot leveled the wings and increased airspeed. He soon realized that he had limited control of his pitch with a combination of power and bank.

Master Sergeant Raymond F. Snedegar, the senior loadmaster, went below and assessed the damage. He described the damage to the pilot and informed him which systems were operational and which were not.

The medical crew, meanwhile, moved about the aircraft reassuring the children and other passengers and treating those injured by flying debris during the decompression. Captain Klinker tended Staff Sergeant Michael G. Paget, who was seriously injured. The two combat photographers, on board to record the first military Babylift flight, used their high intensity lights to illuminate the area where Captain Klinker worked. Other nurses and technicians prepared the children for a possible crash landing. “We checked all the children and resecured them, repadded them, and retied all their seat belts,” Lieutenant Aune explained later. She continued, “In flight school you learn all your emergency procedures. We immediately went to our emergency mode about what we were going to do and how we were going to get out of the aircraft when we landed, who was going to go down the escape slides, etc.. We went through our usual emergency procedures.”

The tragic crash of C-5A Galaxy Number 68-0218 during Operation Babylift
Wreckage of the C-5 Galaxy transport. (NPR) via This Day in Aviation

While ground crews at Tan Son Nhut prepared for an emergency landing, the crew aboard the C-5A readied themselves for a possible crash landing. The flight crew lowered the landing gear and aligned the aircraft with the runway. About six miles from the airport, Captain Traynor began a shallow left turn in preparation for landing. Captain Malone remembered, “We really thought we were in good shape. We had altitude on the turn to final, we had the runway, and the gear was down.” Suddenly, the C-5 commenced a rapid descent. The extra drag of the landing gears had reduced the airspeed to 230 knots, too low to maintain level flight. Realizing they could not reach the runway, the pilots working together leveled the wings, used full power to bring the nose up, and then cut power just before impact.

The C-5 touched down at about 269 knots in a marsh two miles short of the end of the runway. The aircraft rolled and skidded along the ground for about 1,000 feet, then became airborne again. It remained airborne for about 2,700 feet, flying across the Saigon River. When it hit the ground the second time, the C-5 began to break-up as it skidded for another 1,200 feet. The airplane broke into four parts: tail section, flight deck, troop compartment, and wing section. During the impacts and skidding, the cargo compartment totally disintegrated, killing most of the medical crew including Capt. Mary Klinker.

Aune led the surviving members of the medical crew, and despite her own serious injuries repeatedly carried survivors nearby medevac helicopters, continuing until she collapsed. Due to the heroism of the medical team, there were 176 survivors of the crash. For their efforts, the flight crew was awarded the Air Force Cross. Capt. Klinker was the last female service member killed in Vietnam, and was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal. For her actions that day, Lt. Aune became the first woman to receive the Cheney award. She retired as a Colonel in 2007.

C-5M Super Galaxy print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-5M Super Galaxy 60th Air Mobility Wing, 349th Air Mobility Wing, 22nd Airlift Squadron, 07-0042 – Travis AFB, CA

Share this article

Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this article

Share this article
Share this article

Always up to date! News and offers delivered directly to you!

Get the best aviation news, stories and features from The Aviation Geek Club in our newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox.

Error: Contact form not found.

Share this article
Back to top
My Agile Privacy
This website uses technical and profiling cookies. Clicking on "Accept" authorises all profiling cookies. Clicking on "Refuse" or the X will refuse all profiling cookies. By clicking on "Customise" you can select which profiling cookies to activate. In addition, this site installs Google Analytics in version 4 (GA4) with anonymous data transmission via proxy. By giving your consent, the data will be sent anonymously, thus protecting your privacy. We and our selected ad partners can store and/or access information on your device, such as cookies, unique identifiers, browsing data. You can always choose the specific purposes related to profiling by accessing the advertising preferences panel, and you can always withdraw your consent at any time by clicking on "Manage consent" at the bottom of the page.

List of some possible advertising permissions:

You can consult: our list of advertising partners, the Cookie Policy and the Privacy Policy.
Warning: some page functionalities could not work due to your privacy choices