Don’t Believe a Spook

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

While at Pakse filling in for Huey O’Neal, I flew out to locate a scout patrol for pickup by two Air America helicopters. I located the platoon, just west of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was scouting the area when the first chopper went in for the pickup. The NVA opened up on the landing zone with mortar fire, and shrapnel severed an oil line on the first chopper. The pilot set it down a couple of hundred yards away. The second chopper picked up the pilot while the platoon secured the downed chopper.
We launched the next morning to recover the chopper and pick up the troops. I ordered two A-1s from Pleiku and used them to sterilize the area with 20 mm. I then had them “hold hot” for the pickup. The second chopper dropped off the pilot and mechanic. Repairs were made, and the troops were extracted with no problem.
I then picked up a CIA agent (Spook) at Saravane. He was interested in the operation, and wanted to go to where the chopper had taken the troops to debrief them. To get to that particular dirt landing strip, you had to enter through a pass. To make matters more difficult, the runway was perpendicular to the pass. I asked the Spook if Huey O’Neal flew into it and he assured me he did it all the time. About then, a Porter (STOL) came out of the pass, so I decided to go in to land and drop him off.
After dropping him off I taxied to the end of the runway to make a minimum run takeoff. Just as I got airborne, I looked to my right and saw that the pass had just gone by my right wing. My first thought was to make a right turn toward the pass, but there wasn’t enough airspeed, altitude, or room to turn. I continued a maximum power climb without the foggiest idea what to do next. It quickly came down to one option. I pulled the aircraft up into a stall and fed in left rudder (in the direction of the engine torque), and when the aircraft flipped over, I applied opposite rudder and aileron to preclude a spin. With my direction reversed, I picked up airspeed and flew out through the pass.
Later, I asked Huey O’Neal about landing there.
“No way!” was his reply.
I never was fortunate enough to run into that Spook again. Fortunate for him too!