|Name:||Paul Vernon Black|
|Rank/Branch:||Warrant Officer 1/US Army|
|Unit:||11th Aviation Group, 1st Cavalry Division|
|Date of Birth:||26 April 1948 (Santa Cruz, CA)|
|Home of Record:||Central Valley, CA|
|Date of Loss:||01 Mar 1971|
|Country of Loss:||Cambodia|
Click coordinates to view(4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," the troop carriers were referred to as "slicks" and the gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos and Cambodia for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.
During late February, ARVN units were engaged in heavy combat within the boundary of southeastern Cambodia. US aircraft flying in support of ARVN forces had taken ground fire from concealed enemy small arms, .30 caliber and .51 caliber heavy weapons. Further, US intelligence suspected the enemy had moved some heavier anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) into that region.
On 1 March 1971, WO1 Paul V. Black, aircraft commander; WO1 Robert D. Uhl, pilot; SP5 Gary C. David, crew chief; and SP4 Frank A. Sablan, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1H helicopter (serial #15684), call sign Jaguar Yellow Bird." The Huey was participating in a multiple aircraft flight on a classified aerial reconnaissance combat mission over Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. Other aircraft in the flight included AH1G Cobra gunships, one of which was assigned as the mission's command and control aircraft, other Huey gunships and OH6A Loach observation helicopters. Their mission was being flown in support of Lam Son 719 and their area of operation included the region along Highway 75, which was a major artery in the southernmost portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Shortly after 1200 hours, the pilot of the command and control aircraft made the determination to land in a large flat clearing. At approximately 1215 hours, the command and control aircraft was setting down on the ground. As the Cobra was doing so, SFC Richard D. Herron, a crewman on another aircraft, watched as a second Cobra was providing air cover for the command and control ship. WO1 Black's Huey suddenly passed through his aircraft's orbit and flew a distance of roughly 2 miles to the south. At that point the Huey entered a very tight turn. As the Huey completed about 30% of its turn, all of a sudden it tipped nose down, and then straight down. As the aircrew watched in horror, the pilot radioed, "downed bird!"
According to SFC Herron, as it continued its decent, "it looked like something had wrapped around the nose of the helicopter and then up around the aircraft. The main rotor blades came off intact with the main rotor head. They separated and the aircraft just fell straight down from approximately 2100 to 2200 feet." He added that just before it hit the ground, it began to spin. "The tail rotor and the nose of the aircraft hit in exactly the same place and it looked like a knife stuck in the ground. When it impacted the ground there was an explosion. It looked like a petrol explosion, black smoke came boiling out both sides."
From their angle of observation, those aboard SFC Herron's aircraft could see only one side of the Huey. From the time the aircraft entered it's nose-low attitude until it crashed, they did not see the pilot's door or the cargo door open. "I saw no one jump from the aircraft when it hit the ground. The dust came up around it and if anyone was thrown from it, I wouldn't have seen it."
From the debriefing statement of a Loach pilot, Capt. Rodolfo D. Gutierrez, "We were flying at about 2500 feet when I first noticed the H model (the UH1H Huey) north of our area of operations. I saw a pink smoke go from the air to the ground - this is how I noticed the H model. I warned the birds in the area that there might have been ground to air fire. As I began making my larger circle, the H model passed underneath and was climbing. As I was headed to the south, I looked out the left door and saw the H model start to fall. The aircraft was at about 2200 feet."
Capt. Gutierrez continued, "As soon as I saw the aircraft fall, I looked at the head. There were no rotor blades on the head. There was a mast. I looked up and searched for the rotor blades. I did see the blades and grips. They were intact and going up. From about 1600 to 1800 feet the aircraft descended vertically to the ground exploding in a fireball upon impact. About 10 to 15 seconds later the blades hit the ground a little to the southwest of the aircraft. I believe they were intact when they hit."
In response to a question from the debriefer about the potential for survival, Capt. Gutierrez stated, "To the question did anybody jump out of the aircraft, no, I saw no doors open. The doors were closed on the aircraft. Both the pilot, co-pilot and cargo compartment doors were closed. They were secured. I saw no doors open and we had a good view of the aircraft as it was going down as we were at its six o'clock position, or to the rear of the aircraft, so we saw both sides of the aircraft. Upon impacting the ground the aircraft exploded and was engulfed in the fireball. There was an explosion inside the aircraft."
The area in which the Huey crashed was located in a generally flat area that was just south of Highway 75 and approximately 1 mile south of Dambe, 2 miles northeast of Phum Chey Chetha, 14 miles northeast of Suong and 27 miles east of Kampong Cham. It was also 19 miles northwest of the closest point on the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 49 miles west-northwest of Loc Ninh, South Vietnam.
The following day an ARVN unit entered the crash site and recovered fragmented remains that were transported to a US military mortuary for identification. These remains were subsequently identified as Robert Uhl, Gary David and Frank Sablan, and were returned to each man's family for burial. On 16 March 1971, the formal search operation was terminated for Paul Black. At that time he was officially reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
In September 1995, a small team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Kampong Cham Province to investigate the Huey's loss. The team members interviewed a local resident who pinpointed the helicopter's impact point.
On 30 October 1995, a joint team surveyed the crash site and dug a test trench. Team members recovered several small fragments of bone and an upper jaw fragment containing two teeth. Numerous pieces of aircraft wreckage were also recovered. From 6 to 12 November 1995, the site was thoroughly excavated. In spite of the fact that the crash site had been heavily scavenged, the team recovered thousands of small pieces of aircraft wreckage, aircrew related items and approximately 900 small fragments of bone, many of which exhibited the effects of exposure and fire. Also recovered were 20 teeth/parts of teeth with some containing dental restorations.
After closing the recovery site, the possible human remains were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination. In 1997, CIL-HI personnel sent bone and teeth samples to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) for DNA sequencing and comparison with samples obtained from WO1 Black's family. While they were able to obtain DNA sequencing, it did not match that which was provided by the family. Further, none of the teeth/parts of teeth matched Paul Black's dental records.
Due to the circumstances of loss, there is very little chance Paul Black survived his loss incident. If he died, as the military believes, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. Above all else, he has a right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his life.
For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different. Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Paul Black was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam at the time he was shot down.