April 3, 1975, in the final, chaotic days of the Vietnam War, US President Gerald Ford ordered an urgent mission of mercy called “Operation Babylift”. Its goal: to rescue Vietnamese orphans from the chaos of the war and take them to the US. The mission got off to a tragic start: In the initial flight, on April 4, some 243 children, (with 44 escorts, 16 crewmen, and 2 flight nurses) were loaded onto an Air Force C5A Galaxy, one of the world’s largest planes, at Tân Sơn Nhứt Air Base, near Saigon. Its destination: Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

After a steep and rapid ascent to get out of missile range, the aircraft’s cargo door was blown off, causing explosive decompression over the sea near Vũng Tàu. Attempting to return to the air base, the pilot, Captain Dennis Traynor, crash-landed in a rice paddy, the plane breaking in four parts. According to DIA figures, 176 people survived while 138 were killed, including 78 children and 35 Defense Attaché Office, Saigon personnel. Investigation blamed the crash on a maintenance issue with the cargo doors.

I am deeply saddened at the loss of so many lives in the crash of the United States C-5A mercy light today near Saigon. I wish to convey my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims, many of whom were coming to new homes in the United States, and to the volunteers who were caring for them on the flight. Our mission of mercy will continue.”-U.S. President Ford’s official statement.

Along with Operation New Life, over 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of children were airlifted from Vietnam and adopted by families around the world.

-More images of the disaster: https://www.flickr.com/…/721576650371…/with/33321631024/

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