I was recently asked if I ever recommend using ‘soap opera sequences’. Rather than explain I thought it best to give you an example.
On the 29th April 1975 the North Vietnamese army was rolling into Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese army had all but disintegrated.
Ba Van Nguyen was a helicopter pilot and major in the South Vietnamese army. The outlook for Nguyen looked stark. Capture by the North Vietnamese meant certain execution.
Nguyen however had a plan.
On the morning of April 29th, Nguyen commandeered a CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter and raced to his family home. “If you hear a Chinook coming… be ready,” he told his wife.
Nguyen landed on a narrow playing field. His wife and three young children scurried on board. Pulling away Nguyen flew out into the South China Sea.
Flying blind with no destination, Ba Van Nguyen realised he was quickly running out of fuel. He turned on his radio’s emergency frequency and heard the voices of American naval officers.
Down on the ocean one of Nguyen’s passengers spotted a US Navy ship. Flying down closer Nguyen identified the ship as the USS Kirk. Unbeknown to Nguyen, the Kirk had her guns trained right at his stolen helicopter.
The captain of the Kirk that day was Paul Jacobs. Jacobs had orders to shoot down any unidentified aircraft that might threaten the aerial evacuation from Saigon. Jacobs this time decided to take a chance.
“Unless somebody shoots at us, we ain’t shooting,” Jacobs told his crew.
Kirk had a sailor on board who spoke basic Vietnamese. Nguyen told the Kirk’s radio operator that he had women and children aboard, and he was running out of fuel.
“I must land or crash into the sea,” Nguyen said. “Please help us.”
The Kirk’s crew frantically tried to wave the Chinook away. If Nguyen had attempted to land the rotor blades may have ripped into the ship’s structure, potentially killing everybody.
Nguyen radioed to the Kirk that he would hover above deck, and his passengers would jump out of the helicopter. Kent Chipman was one of the sailors waiting on deck that day, with arms raised. ‘This is going to be bad’, he thought.
Moments later a bundle appeared out of the left side of the helicopter. The bundle contained a baby. Nguyen’s 10 month daughter dropped to the ship deck, straight into Chipman’s arms.
One by one Nguyen’s wife and two boys jumped out of the helicopter. The Kirk’s crew members caught all of them.
Now alone in the helicopter, Ba Van Nguyen flew the Chinook out to the starboard side of the Kirk and hovered so his wheels were in and out of the water.
For ten minutes the helicopter hovered stationary. “We wondered what he was doing,” remarked Jacobs.
Inside the helicopter Ba Van Nguyen was fighting to keep the huge helicopter stationary, and at the same time take off his clothes.
Finally, Nguyen rolled the helicopter to the right and dived frantically out of the left hand door…
(To be continued)