1975 Tân Sơn Nhứt C-5 accident

My wife and I spent two days at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio; it is my favorite place on earth. The first time I was there was in high school and they’ve made quite a few improvements in the last number of decades.

I’ve been to the museum perhaps a dozen times and completely missed the memorial gardens every trip. It’s a fascinating place just adjacent to the museum with memorials for various people and missions.

What really struck me is how awesome the United States Air Force has been through the years. The technology in the museum is testament to that but it’s a bit overwhelming to realize the thousands of airman who’ve participated in missions too numerous to count that have been boiled down to a plaque on the ground.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit some history and the real people they represent through these plaques. The first one I chose is the 1975 Tân Sơn Nhứt C-5 accident.

With the fall of Saigon nearing, President Ford ordered the evacuation of 2,000 orphans from Vietnam in what was called Operation Baby Lift. The first flight was scheduled to depart April 4, 1975. President Ford planned to meet the flight when it landed in the United States.

A C-5A Galaxy was piloted by Captain Dennis “Bud” Traynor and Captain Tilford Harp. Shortly after takeoff, the rear doors of the gigantic airplane flew open due to maintenance issues with the hinges on the aircraft. The doors severely crippled the aircraft leaving only one aileron and the wing spoilers operating. Minutes later, the plane began a steep dive and Traynor pulled the nose of the plane up as it crashed into a rice paddy. The plane broke into four pieces much of which then caught fire.

Remarkably, Traynor and Harp both survived the crash and were both awarded the Air Force Cross. Traynor has been a management consultant in Washington and he and his wife recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. Harp retired from FlightSafety International in 2005 and now spends time with his grandchildren.

Col. (then Lt.)  Regina Aune was chief medical officer on the flight and Chief Master Sgt. Ray Snedegar was the senior loadmaster. From an article in 2015,

The cockpit crew was uninjured but Aune wasn’t as fortunate. She had gone sailing down the aisle breaking a bone in her back, all the bones in one foot and had serious cuts on her leg and hands. Despite her injuries, she helped evacuate survivors to helicopters until she passed out.

Aune said she remembers nothing until awakening on the floor of a helicopter but Snedegar recalled the medical officer snapping a salute and asking to be relieved of duty before fainting.

All air crewmembers on the C-5A were awarded the Airman’s Medal. Aune also was awarded the 1974 Cheney Award and a Purple Heart. Snedegar was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Cheney Award “honors an Air Force member for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature. It is presented in memory of 1st Lt. William Cheney, who was killed in an air collision over Italy in 1918.” Aune was the first woman to win the award. She is now at Texas A&M International University as their dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Ray Snedegar is a driver for the Cincinnati Reds. Whoa! What? He took a job in retirement to drive Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy from his home in Lexington, KY to all of the Reds home games. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

He also volunteers at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio and, perhaps, he had something to do with placing the plaque.

According to Wikipedia, “Out of 314 people on board, the death toll included 78 children, 35 Defence Attaché Office employees and 11 U.S. Air Force personnel; there were 176 survivors.”

Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

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