Joe Sarnecky shared an audio file, simulated photo and his memories from a mid-air collision and rescue on August 15, 1968 at 1520 while flying at about 5000 feet above near the southernmost base in North Vietnam. He was flying as a Lt JG in one of two F4’s that collided mid-air. He received an audio file of the radio recording before a reunion about 5-6 years ago. We listened to the chilling radio call, with the beeping of the Automatic Ejector in the background at the beginning. The USS Halsey Warship recorded his Mayday call of a downed aircraft (F4 Phantom) Linfield 201. They were returning from a mission off the USS Kittyhawk where there was heavy fighting. His plane and another A4 hit about 1 mile before the coast over an area with firing coming from the jungle on the beach and five fishing boats in the area that would all be happy to collect a US airman for a bounty of about $10,000 US equivalent dollars.
Joe was the back seater in his F4, one of two F4’s downed. He didn’t know that there was another F4 involved, just that he had been ejected at about 700 feet in the air and a mile from the coast. His goal was to get out over the water so he used the chute to collect air to propel him. He landed tangled in his parachute in the water. He felt claustrophobic and got his helmet off and decided he needed to get any sharp objects away from his survival floatation vest so it would not be punctured.He was floating with water neck high with five foot waves.
The USS Halsey warship sent A4 helicopters to the rescue. They dropped a Gutter in the water to keep the fishing vessels from getting to the downed men. They were trying to take out the people firing from the beach at the tree line in the jungle. They were dropping bombs and getting reports from the Harbormaster about the location of the firing by the smoke on the beach. Additional A4’s were there to keep the fishing fleet at bay, but they could not shoot at them.
They initially tried to hoist Joe up, but realized he was tangled in the chute and had to drop him back in the water. The sent a paratrooper down to cut him free which took about ten minutes. The paratrooper was left behind by his helicopter as it needed to get back to refuel. Joe was in the water for about 35 minutes. The Paratrooper that rescued him recalled that Joe said to him “This is a hell of a way to make a living!”Joe was brought up by a hoist after the replacement Helicopters returned. He was taken to the USS Halsey. He then learned that there were two planes down and all 4 men were rescued. The survivors included his pilot and both the back seater and pilot in the other plane.
The other pilot suffered burns and serious injury to his arm. Joe was very lucky and was not injured except for a back pproblem that he developed later and which he attributed to the accident. He was sent back out flying again in 5 days. In all her flew 226 combat mission over 3 cruises: two in 1967-1968 and one in 1969. Thank you Joe.