Losses and Aviation Safety

This C-130A Hercules flew the last mission out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. It landed with 452 people on board, 32 of them in the cockpit, overloaded by at least 10,000 pounds.

On Apr. 29, 1975, C-130A Hercules tail number 56-0518 flew the last mission out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon.

On Apr. 29, 1975, C-130A Hercules tail number 56-0518 flew the last mission out of Vietnam before the fall of Saigon.

56-0518 was accepted into the US Air Force (USAF) inventory on Aug. 23, 1957. As told by Master Sgt. Jeff Walston, 913th Airlift Group, in the article Last “Herk” out of Vietnam, it was first assigned to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, Sewart AFB, Tennessee. Between 1964 and 1972, it served with several Air Force units. On Nov. 2, 1972 the aircraft was delivered to the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1972 under the Military Assistance Program as part of the Nixon administration’s effort to bolster that country’s defense against the invading communist forces from the North.

On Apr. 29, 1975, the day before Saigon fell, North Vietnamese forces destroyed virtually all aircraft – more than 100 planes – on the flightline at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. 0-5-1-8 was the only C-130 to avoid ruin.

South Vietnamese instructor pilot, Maj. Phuong, and his crew prepared to get the last flyable aircraft off the destroyed Tan Son Nhut air base.

In a panicked state, hundreds of refugees rushed to get aboard this last flyable C-130, the aircraft representing their final ticket to freedom. The multitude forced themselves on top of each other and into every crevice, to the point that the rear ramp would not close for the bodies standing on it.

After being notified by the loadmaster, and with few options available, Phoung slowly taxied the aircraft forward and then hit the brakes forcing the people forward. The ramp closed.

Getting the overloaded aircraft off the ground would take all of Phuong’s skill as a pilot and more runway than was available, but the C-130 made it into the sky.

Phoung had planned for an 80-minute flight to the safety of Thailand, but got lost over the Gulf of Siam. Three and a half hours later, after finding a map and making corrections, the C-130 landed at Utapao Royal Thai air base in Thailand.

In all, 452 people were on board, including 32 in the cockpit alone. The aircraft was overloaded by at least 10,000 pounds and required every foot of runway to become airborne.

There had been no loss of life on this historic flight.

Upon landing, the US Air Force reclaimed the aircraft and in 1976 assigned it to the Oklahoma Air National Guard. The aircraft joined the 118th Tactical Airlift Group (ANG), Nashville, Tenn., in 1979.

Due to its original assignment with the 62d Troop Carrier Squadron and the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, the aircraft was retired to Little Rock AFB and has been on display at the main gate since 1989.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AC-130U Spooky II 1st SOW, 4th SOS, 88-0163
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.

View Comments

  • Wow, Great story that I had never heard before.
    The C130 is a hell of a plane and so was that pilot... The pucker factor must have been +100.

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