By John Waresh
The following is what I remember of the A-1 participation in the Son Tay prison camp raid…
On the Saturday night of 20 November 1970 a C-130 picked us up from Takhli where we had been housed in the CIA compound since deploying from Eglin. The NKP flight line was blacked out, even the tower people had been relieved and it was empty. The C-130 landed, without anylights on it or the runway and ramp, and taxied to the ramp. It had already lowered the rear ramp and when it came to almost a stop ten of us ran out, two pilots for each of the five fat-faces we were taking. It then continued on, pulling up the ramp, taxied out and took off. It had other people to deliver to other locations. The only people out and about were the crew chiefs and us. Of course the Wing Commander met us and followed me around like a puppy dog asking question after question, none of which I could answer. He got rather teed off as I recall.
Picking up our flight gear we went straight to the birds, cranked up and taxied out. No taxi, runway or aircraft lights were used and no radio either, total silence (the radio was not to be used till over the camp).
Taking off at the exact second, we did a 360 over the base to join up. A C-130 Talon was to rendezvous with us there and lead us on. Timing was everything. It wasn’t there. We did two more 360s and couldn’t wait any longer. We were, by that time, about ten minutes behind schedule.
The backup plan was to navigate ourselves to Son Tay, following the planned route and arriving at the appointed time, 0200 local, Sunday, 21 November. No way, José. We had agreed among ourselves earlier that that was not a viable plan. We would fly the course until we got lost, which we knew we would, and then head straight for Hanoi. Hold just south of the IP, which was the Black River, straight west of the camp, and do our thing at the TOT (Time Over Target).
The route was NKP, straight to Vientiane, straight north out of there and then drop to low level and weave through the karst and valleys all the rest of the way. Impossible at night for A-1s. A back up rendezvous with the Talon was over Vientiane at the appointed minute, but, because we had made an extra 360 over NKP waiting, we were running late. We had been unable to make up all the lost time, some of it but not all. We hit Vientiane a few minutes late, maybe five, no Talon. We turned north and pressed on.