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USS Midway Air Boss Remembers Heroic Bird Dog Airplane Rescue

On April 29, 1975, South Vietnamese Air Force Major Bung-Ly made the decision to load his family -- his wife and five children -- into a small two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog airplane. Bung-Ly took off from Saigon and made it out to sea, where he looked for a ship to land on and spotted the USS Midway. Without any radio communications, Captain Lawrence Chambers made the decision to allow Ly to land on the flight deck, even though the plane had no tail hook and it was an extremely risky landing. USS Midway Air Boss Vern Jumper remembers the story.

"And the operation was starting to shut down when out of nowhere this little Bird Dog, it’s an L-19 – it’s an observation airplane – he was circling the ship and all of a sudden he flew right down the flight deck at about 100 feet. And he did this, like, two or three times. He tried to drop a note on the flight deck. The first two blew over the side. The third one stayed on the deck. And this note said “I can land on your runway, would you please move the helicopters to the other side of your runway. I have one more hour of fuel, would you please rescue me?” And he signed it Major Bong, wife and five children. He had his wife and five kids in a little two-place airplane.

Now if you put this in perspective, this man, he was sought by the communist. He would have been killed if he’d stayed there and his family too. He took this airplane, stuffed his family in this airplane, and took off from an island near Saigon and just flew out to sea not knowing where he was going to go. And to me, I just can't think of a more courageous thing to do. It’s just amazing to me. Well anyway, a long story short, first we were going to have him ditch alongside the ship. Then we’d put a heel over him, put swimmers in the water, and we’d save him. But Captain Chambers, the commanding officer, he made a wise decision. He said, 'No. We’re not going to do that. If he ditches in the water, he’ll lose those five kids.' Which is very true because that little airplane is a tail-dragger. It would have nosed over and we would have never gotten the kids out of there.

So he sad, 'Vern, we’re going to take them aboard. Give me a ready deck.'Aye aye, sir.' So we went to work, cleared the angle deck, and turned into the wind. This guy made a couple passes at the ship just to look, see. And by the way, I had no radio communications with him. I couldn’t talk to him. He could see that we were ready for him. We had 30-40 knots right down the angle deck, and he started his final approach. He then made a beautiful carrier landing without a tail hook. He touched down right in the wire area – we’d stripped the wires off the deck because that would have felled him up. He touched down right where he should have, bounced once, rolled up the deck and was stopped before he got to the end of the angle deck.

My flight deck crew ran out to grab him before he went over the angle deck, but he didn’t. The major and his wife jumped out of the cockpit, pulled the backseat forward, and out tumbled all these little kids. Five little kids they had. She was holding a baby in her arms when he landed.

Oh, when he landed my flight deck crew and all the other guys that were working on the flight deck in the squadrons and the ship’s company ran out there. And they're hooping and hollering and making so much noise. They were so proud, so glad that they saved this guy.