Wednesday, August 19, 2015

VNAF Major Lý Bửng's Flight to Freedom

Major Lý Bửng landing on the USS Midway, April 30, 1975.
       Perhaps the most famous landing of a VNAF Cessna O-1 "Bird Dog" took place on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway on April 30, 1975, as Saigon fell. On that day, Major Lý Bửng placed his family into the cabin of a Cessna O-1 and headed for the US fleet off the coast of Vietnam. There were many risks as he wasn't sure if there were any carriers in the direction he headed, and fuel was in short supply. He finally came across the USS Midway, but the carrier's decks were filled with helicopters that were continually landing.
A Huey Bell UH-1 is pushed over the side of the USS Midway in order to make space for
Major Lý Bửng's landing, April 30, 1975.
      After attempts to communicate by radio failed, the major was finally able to fly low enough to drop a note on the deck, requesting to land and stating that he was with his family and critically short on fuel. The alternative would have been to try to ditch in the sea. The captain of the USS Midway, Lawrence Chambers, did not hesitate to help. A call for volunteers was made onboard the ship to clear the deck of helicopters and other equipment. All the available crew volunteered. It is estimated what was then the equivalent of $10 million worth of military equipment was tossed into the sea. Captain Chambers had only been in command of the Midway for a few weeks, and he fully expected he would later be court-martialed for his order.
USS Midway Captain Lawrence Chambers during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.
     The deck cleared, Major Lý Bửng showed great skillsmanship as he completed the risky landing safely on the deck of the carrier. The major and the captain were both regarded as heroes.
Major Lý Bửng completes his safe landing on the USS Midway, April 30, 1975.
Another image of the landing, this one appearing on the front page of the Chân Trời Mới
refugee camp newspaper on Guam, May 13th 1975 issue, RVNHS Archive.
      Today, the VNAF Cessna O-1 Bird Dog that Major Lý Bửng flew onto the deck of the carrier is on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. Major Lý Bửng resides in the United States with his family, and is regularly involved in memorial events, including those held on the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California.

Major Lý Bửng's VNAF Cessna O-1 Bird Dog on display at
the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida.
Left - Major Lý Bửng being interviewed by a reporter after landing on the USS Midway, 1975.
Right - Major Lý Bửng in present day.
A life-like display of Major Lý Bửng, his wife, and one of his children onboard the USS Midway Museum as part of the Operation Frequent Wind commemoration exhibition in 2010.

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