Above & Beyond: Ration of Luck
- By Donald V. Courtney
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
Donald V. Courtney
(Page 3 of 3)
B-136 buried its nose in a big tree. Branches went by on both sides of the cockpit; there was a series of thumps. The airplane stalled and nosed over.
Laos is limestone country—sheer white karst cliffs all over. B-136’s tree was on the edge of one of those cliffs, and when the airplane nosed over, it fell free, over the edge and down. It picked up flying speed. Beale nursed the nose up and flew away.
Air blasted up through the cockpit, blowing dirt and dust up pant legs and into faces. The crew went to Vientiane, dropped the cargo over the airport, and headed south to Udorn, Thailand. Beale put B-136 onto the pierced-steel-planking runway, and everybody on board was soon kissing muddy ground. Another C-46 came up from Bangkok, collected some of us at Takhli, and that night flew north to pick up Beale and company and get the roller conveyor and other drop equipment off B-136 so we could use it the next day. We went over B-136 with flashlights, whistling and making blasphemous comments in awed tones.
On the left side, a branch a foot in diameter had passed between the fuselage and the propeller arc, missing the prop but driving a hole two feet deep in the wing root. Another branch punched a head-size hole right under Beale’s feet, missing the rudder pedals but letting in the torrent of air that sent all that World War II dirt up Beale’s pant legs. All along the belly were dents and holes. The left ends of the horizontal stabilizer and elevator were sheared off about an inch from the outboard hinge. Everywhere there was damage that just barely missed being fatal.
Like B-916, B-136 went to Tainan for a total rebuild, and was back in a few months. That summer, while trying to turn out of a mountaintop karst bowl, heading for the one gap where it could get out, B-136 hooked a wing into a spur ridge and cartwheeled into little pieces, its luck all used up. On board were smokejumpers Dave Bevan, John “Tex” Lewis, and Darrel “Yogi” Eubanks. Their deaths pretty much brought an end to the CIA PDO program, and Air America began hiring its own cargo droppers. By the end of 1961, most of the CIA PDOs had moved on to other things. On a hot day in 1962, Bill Beale hit another tree at the end of a short airstrip. It was his final tree.
—Donald V. Courtney