At the end of the Vietnam War, Saigon was forced into a historic evacuation as the North Vietnamese army descended upon the city. Among the countless stories of heroism and bravery, this photo remains a moving record of what a man is willing to for his family.
Taken by a sailor aboard the USS Kirk, the image depicts the cinematic escape of a desperate and loving South Vietnamese father willing to do anything to keep his family safe. Even destroying a CH-47 Chinook in the process.
Details of Incident
On Apr. 29, 1975, at around 10:30 am, Maj Ba Van Nguyen, of Vietnamese Air Force 237th Helicopter Squadron, landed his CH-47A Chinook helicopter in front of his parents’ home in Saigon.
Nguyen quickly gathered his family onboard the helicopter. He originally planned on flying to a remote island to get away from the heavy fighting in the city.
On his way out to sea, Nguyen could hear English communication chatter on his radio. It was then that he knew in the distance there could be a U.S. Navy ship to perhaps help everyone on the Chinook. As soon as he picked up the visual of a ship, he began to head towards it slowly and cautiously.
Unlike the smaller Huey helicopter that was able to land on many ships, the Chinook was too big to perform such a landing.
The aircraft was much too large for USS Kirk’s flight deck, so the pilot hovered low over the fantail and unloaded his precious cargo of men, women, children, and infants – and his aircrew – into the waiting arms of Kirk crewmen below.
Then, flying his behemoth helicopter all alone, the pilot moved a short distance off Kirk’s starboard quarter, hovering within inches of the sea.
He slowly rolled the Chinook on its right side, escaping the spectacular crash unharmed by diving out the left door in mid-roll. Both main rotors disintegrated on impact, and shattered shards of the blades flew across Kirk, splashing into the sea well to port. The crew of Kirk’s motor whaleboat was standing by and rescued the pilot in short order. All crewmen and family members were reunited unharmed on the USS Kirk that day.”
There was only one CH-47 that came to the USS Kirk FF-1087 in 1975. Your father hovered the helo over the fantail of the Kirk and his passengers jumped out to the arms of the Kirk crew. He then came to the right of Kirk, rolled the helo to the right and jumped out on the left side. Your father was a very brave man and he accomplished a remarkable and professional job to save his passengers and his family. There could hardly have been a more masterful bit of flying, or a braver pilot that day,” said Captain Paul H. Jacobs, then USS Kirk (FF-1087) Commanding Officer, to Nguyen’s sons.
Roughly 24 hours later, Nguyen and his family transitioned from the USS Kirk to a few others ships heading towards the U.S. … heading toward freedom.Ba Van Nguyen passed away at the age of 73 on Jun. 17, 2013,