The following relates to one
aircraft her crew that were involved in a mission that took place five days
after the end of Linebacker II, the "maximum effort" bombing
campaign that ran from 18th to the 29th December 1972.
"Ruby 02" was a Boeing B-52D
Stratofortress belonging to the United States Air Force 307th Strategic Wing
based at U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand. On the evening of the 3rd / 4th January
1973 her six man crew were:
Lt Col Gerald Wickline
"Bill" F. Milcarek
Capt Myles McTernan
Maj Roger A.
Captain William E. Fergason
TSGT Carlos S.
During the mission over North Vietnam the aircraft was hit by a North Vietnamese
SA-2 ground to air missile near Vinh. The missile hit took out two of the
aircraft's engines and significantly damaged the electrical and hydraulic
systems. It was clear that the aircraft would not make it back to her base in
Thailand. At around 5 in the morning the crew were forced to abandon the
aircraft over the South China Sea and await their fate.
Forty one years after the event,
Bill Fergason, the aircraft's 27 year old Electronics Warfare
Officer recalls the mission
We took off from U-Tapao AB at 0243 and proceeded to the target area
(Vinh, North Vietnam).
On approach to the target (SAM sites) I notified
the pilot of threat radars. As I recall, just prior to bomb release I
notified the pilot of missile launch. Since it was still early morning
and dark, the pilot confirmed the missile launch visually. Just after
bomb release, the pilots and gunner reported missiles passing on both
sides of our aircraft.
Immediately thereafter a missile exploded below
our aircraft showering us with shrapnel. I observed sparks / shrapnel
flying about inside the aircraft cabin. The pilot immediately put out
the word that we were hit and started to descend. Our flight path to
and from the target area was east bound toward the sea. We continued
east as the pilot descended to approximately 10,000 ft and tried to slow
the airspeed to a safer bailout speed. Most of this was done with the
help of one of our "cell" mates flying with us and reporting on altitude
and speed (the explosion and concussion of the missile caused the
instruments to malfunction including shattering the pilot's windows to
the point they could not clearly see out.) When it was confirmed we
were in an area safe for bailout (over water with Navy assets in the
area for pickup), the pilot ordered a controlled bailout sequence.
During debriefing, we learned we had at least two engines on fire, a
fuselage fire, loss of instruments, loss of hydraulic pressures, and
the navigator's seat was damaged resulting in the navigator making a
manual bailout instead an ejection seat assisted bailout.
sequence worked perfectly, just as it was supposed to (canopy
jettisoned, seat ejected and separated from me, parachute deployed as
did the seat gear with inflated raft dangling below me on descent). As
I descended, I immediately checked that I had a good chute, inflated my
underarm LPUs and checked that all my seat gear was still with me. The
only problem I had was with my hand held radio. After I climbed in the
raft, I tried to establish contact with rescue crews. I could hear the
rescue crews in the area but they could not hear me. I had a problem
with transmitting. As a result it took approximately three hours before
I was found and picked up.
The Radar Navigator and I were picked up by
a Marine Helicopter rescue flattop (similar to an aircraft carrier but
smaller) called the USS INCHON. We were both in the ship's hospital
quarters while they spent another four or five hours searching for the
After all was said and done, the Gunner made his exit from
the aircraft and landed near an actual aircraft carrier (name unknown by
me) and was picked up almost immediately. The pilot and copilot were
pick up by helicopters out of Da Nang, South Vietnam and flown directly
back to Da Nang. Since the Navigator had to make a manual bailout
(getting out of his malfunctioning ejection seat and actually falling
out of the Radar Navigator's open hatch), he was knocked unconscious by
hitting the bottom of the aircraft in the windstream. He obviously had
his hand on the "D" ring of the parachute because it did open and he was
found in the water semiconscious with his parachute still attached and
floating on only one side of his underarm LPU (one side did not
inflate). He was "extremely" lucky!
Captain William E. Fergason
This photo was taken the day after the six were rescued.
From left to right:
Gerry Wickline (arm in sling)
Fergason (eye patch)
Not pictured is Myles McTurnan - who had not been discharged from the
hospital (the building the five are standing in front of in the
On ejection and encountering the
airstream Bill's Helmet face visor burst and temporarily
damaged his left eye. His lower chin experienced a slight cut that
required several stitches.
It was concluded this jury was the result of the parachute harnessing
gear striking his face.
Photos via Kelly DeSoto
and Bill Fergason and used with their permission