The Loss of "Ruby 02"
3rd / 4th January 1973

 

 

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
Aircraft Commander
pilot
 
Captain William "Bill" F. Milcarek
Co-Pilot
Capt Myles McTernan
navigator
 
Maj Roger A. Klingbeil
Radar Navigator
 
Captain William E. Fergason
EWO
TSGT Carlos S. "Chuck" Kilgore
Gunner  
 

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. 

My ejection 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 Navigator. 

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:


Roger Klingbeil
Bill Milcarek
Gerry Wickline (arm in sling)
Bill Fergason (eye patch)
Chuck  Kilgore.
Not pictured is Myles McTurnan - who had not been discharged from the
hospital (the building the five are standing in front of in the  picture)


 

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

Sincere thanks to Kelly DeSoto for helping with this web page about her dad and Captain Bill Fergason, USAF retired, for permission to include his personal memories of the mission and his ejection.

Project Get Out and Walk