Search and Rescue – I (Nov 1964)

As the war in Southeast Asia escalated, so the need for search and rescue became more important.  Following the loss of the first two USAF aircraft in South Vietnam in February 1962 Detachment 3 of the Pacific Air Rescue Center was established at Tan Son Nhut on 1 April 1962.  Initially the rescue coordinator used whatever aircraft and helicopters were available if SAR was required but in May 1964 the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed that the SAR mission in Southeast Asia be assigned to the USAF and that sufficient aircraft be assigned to fulfil the mission.  Two HH-43B Huskie helicopters were sent to Nakhon Phanom in June while two HU-16B Albatross amphibians were sent to Korat and another three to Da Nang.  The need for search and rescue was highlighted by the loss of the two Yankee Team RF-8s over Laos in June 1964.  After the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August further HH-43s were deployed on temporary duty to Takhli and Korat.  The HH-43B was particularly unsuitable for operations in the Southeast Asian environment.  Its low power, limited radius of action, and small capacity severely limited its usefulness.  The improved HH-43F, introduced late in 1964, was a little better but the rescue forces sometimes had to rely on helicopters operated by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, VNAF or, in the case of Laos, Air America.  By the end of 1964 USAF HH-43s were based at Bien Hoa, Da Nang, Nakhon Phanom, Takhli, Korat and Pleiku.  However, the first major SAR effort of the war in Southeast Asia that took place on 18/19 November relied heavily on Air America aircraft and it was obvious that the USAF needed to enhance its capability in this critical area.