Incident in the South China Sea

An experience told by Edward O. Dayley, Major, Retired, U.S.A. Army

Here I am on the beach; picture taken by a soldier

How are we influenced and are we really listening when our Heavenly Father is talking to us? Who is directing us during this time frame? While I was in Vietnam, I had several experiences when I knew I was being prompted by our Heavenly Father. One took place when I was Operations Officer at Bearcat in April 1971 (near Chu Lai).

Since I was an Instructor Pilot, I’d been given a mission to give a checkride one day. In Vietnam checkrides were given every six months or whenever a pilot was made an aircraft commander. What you did on a checkride was to take the pilot through all the emergency procedures, all routine procedures, make sure they were able to handle the aircraft, see if their judgment was good, and if they could fly the missions they were assigned to fly.

Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri on

When we got out to the aircraft that morning, the aircraft that I was originally assigned to give the checkride in was restricted from doing running landings which was normally one of our procedures. However, as an I.P. (Instructor Pilot) I could wave that portion of the checkride if I wanted to. But I felt, “No, I want to give this particular individual the running landing.” So, I talked to another aircrew that was getting ready to go out on a regular mission that day, and their aircraft was okay for running landings, so we coordinated with maintenance officer to see if there was any problem with swapping aircrafts. He consented to letting us go ahead and swap aircraft.

Photo by Maria Orlova on

We took off on the checkride, and everything was perfectly normal—no problems whatsoever. The airfield where I gave the checkride was located right next to South China Sea, and as we were downwind over the sea, suddenly there was a loud bang and the aircraft swung violently to the right. I thought initially, we had had a midair collision with an aircraft coming up off the airfield who had taken off and hit us in the back of the aircraft. In my mind, I visualized the aircraft on fire, falling into the ocean and exploding. I grabbed the controls from the young pilot and headed the aircraft for the beach.

Now, normally when you have things like this happen, emergency procedures are to reduce the throttle and make an auto rotation down. However, this time, for some reason, I did not do this. I did the exact opposite. I did not reduce the throttle—I kept it full open. I kept all the power that I had, that the engine could produce, applied to the rotor system. Why I did this I don’t know. I just did it. I can’t say that I was told to do it or directed to do it. It was just one of those things that for some reason, I did. I kept the full throttle applied.

Note from the G.I. who towed the helicopter and took Ed’s photo (1st photo above)

Note says: “Dear Sir, here is your picture, next time you drop in, be a little more careful and you won’t need towing out, Just an acquaintance, Shrimp (nickname) from the 116th.”

We made the beach. When we landed, I turned aircraft to land on a steep slope—a 25- degree slope. Usually, you can’t make a landing on a 25-degree slope in that particular aircraft. How I did it, I don’t have any idea. I just know I did. One skid was in the water, the other skid on the beach. That is how close it came to going in the water. When the collective pitch was reduced, as the skids touched the beach, the rotor blades came to an immediate stop. Fortunately, because of where we were and my extraordinary actions, both the other pilot and I were safe.

When maintenance checked the engine, they discovered that transmission oil was lost due to blown seals, resulting in internal failure of the transmission. The pieces of the transmission were ground into small, magnetized metal, pieces of which I still have.

Vietnam war, helicopters, accidents, prayers
Ed Dayley, Vietnam, circa 1971

Now, if this aircraft, originally scheduled for another mission had gone on its original mission, there is a very good possibility that the 10 to 14 people aboard (it would have been a loaded aircraft) would not have been as fortunate as we had been. If that aircraft had gone out flying out over the mountains, in very rough terrain, with virtually no landing areas available for them, when the transmission had seized up, there is little chance that they could have landed safely. Maybe I was just a tool in the hand of our Heavenly Father; if we had not swapped aircraft most likely everybody on that other aircraft would have been killed. In swapping aircraft, I was extremely fortunate in being exactly where I was in the situation where I was in, to land the aircraft safely.

Our Father in Heaven does give guidance to us. We may not recognize that guidance comes from our Father in Heaven. At the time that this occurrence happened, I would not have said that I had had a vision like Moses did with the burning bush or that I heard a voice like Moses heard coming out of the bush telling him to do this or not to do this. But looking back on it, I know the promptings of the spirit were coming to me. I know that I was being given guidance and direction on what to do. I know that I was being looked after by our Father in Heaven. I know that our Father in Heaven will guide us and direct us and help us in these things.

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