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War Stories

B57 Canberra Bomber Crash - 1967

by Tom Fleming, Bain Cowell, Bill Mosenthal,
mentioned Adolfo Eschenwald


MAJ Tom Fleming Service Platoon Leader: A B57 Canberra crashed in the Ho Bo Woods about mid morning. D Troop was alerted for crash recovery and told to stand by until the 7th Air Force released us to respond. (The Canberra had never pulled out of a dive and it made a big hole in the ground).

At about 1400 D Troop was informed that a team from the 7th Air Force would soon be arriving and was instructed to transport them to the crash site after securing the site. (I was still the Service Platoon Ldr flying Stable Boy.)

The amount of time that passed from crash to arrival of 7th AF team and launch insured a VC welcoming party. The D Troop response was C&C, Aero Rifle Platoon (5 UH-1D with 27 man Infantry men and Stable Boy with the 4 man 7th AF team. Escorted by 2 Light Fire Teams (CPT Adolfo Eschenwald was the escort leader).

The flight took off and after form up flew up the Saigon River at 1500' directly toward the crash site. I was the trail UH-1 as the staggered trail formation let down from the RP. I was about 800' when the UH-1 just ahead of me started receiving machine gun fire from my left. I looked down at the machine gun team standing in the open. It was firing a US 30 cal light Machine gun and had a loader with a long belt of ammo feeding his gun they were bringing a stream of tracers up into the formation.]

I called receiving fire as I watched the stream of tracers arcing up to Stable Boy. Suddenly I saw a gun ship pass over the top of me. It was Adolf Eschenwald. He released a volly of rockets while in a diving turn. I watched the rockets impact on the machine gunner with a bright yellow flash. The tracer stream stopped right in front of my wind screen. That shooting was miraculous. I have never seen shooting like that in my entire career. I am deaply indebted to CPT Adolfo Eschenwald. I was, and still am, saddened by his passing.

This was the mission where Terry Vaughn lost an M-16 as we were departing the crash site with the 7th AF Recovery Team.

The date of the B-57 crash in question may have been the August crash. I was still flying Stable Boy in August and as I recall my copilot was a new to me pilot a WO who was moved to the Aerorifles, who’s name I have difficulty recalling. I think he is the same pilot who was flying a charter or commuter air craft in the Upper mid-west and augured it in a few years ago.


1LT Bain Cowell: As Artillery Forward Observer I was in the back seat of the C&C ship circling near the Saigon River, probably monitoring a LRRP mission. Suddenly one of the pilots came up on the intercom and directed our attention north along the west side of the river (Hobo Woods), where a gray mushroom cloud, like a mini A-bomb burst, was rising up to our altitude. We soon learned about the crash. The Aerorifles had been landed to secure the site so USAF guys could investigate. I recall hearing that all 3 crew members died. Never heard what they concluded about the crash--shootdown? aircraft malfunction? crew error?"


1LT Bill Mosenthal Aerorifle Platoon Leader: "Everything I read here about the B-57 crash rings true. I thought I would just add a footnote from an Aero-Rifle perspective. Others have described the magnitude of the explosion.

The crater was about twenty feet deep and about forty feet across and still smoking - several hours or so old by the time we got there. We heard sporadic, single-shot fire at distances of several hundred meters and out. It was not effective fire on us, probably aimed at our aircraft, but it kept us crouched and low to the ground.

At the bottom was a mass of glowing lava, and facedown on top of it a crewman’s body. He had streamer’d in after the aircraft exploded, his chute strung out behind him and not completely opened, yet it must have given him enough of a brake to delay his plunge into the crater behind the plane. He would have been vaporized otherwise.

I didn’t think it was possible to get close enough to retrieve him. I decided to test the crater walls myself and went a few steps down, but the dirt just got softer, deeper and hotter. I took a long look at the corpse. He had been burned out from the underside by the smoldering fuel, molten metal, and possibly ordnance. He was not much thicker than a crisp of bacon. The back of his skull and his flight suit were really all that was left. His blond hair was visible and matted with what looked like fuel oil.

I tried to tell the Air Force personnel they were going to have to get more equipment to suppress the heat and extract the body, but they did not express much interest. They were nervous and clearly wanted out of there. They circled the crater a few times with their equipment. I think their focus was solely on verifying the destruction of onboard equipment – sensors, communications, weapons, etc. They carried satchels of special gear and I have talked to AF people since who said that the critical systems onboard can be pinged and their state of health read out to determine.