On 25 November 1971, two CH-53 helicopters of the 37th ARRS, call signs JOLLY GREEN 70 and 73, departed Bien Hoa Airbase to pick up survivors of a crash near Can Tho (variously described as a CH-47 CHINOOKor C-7 CARIBOU). During the pickup JOLLY GREEN 70 took hits from enemy fire. After dropping off the crash survivors at Can Tho, the crew of JOLLY GREEN 70 checked their aircraft and decided it was capable of the return flight to Bien Hoa Airbase. JOLLY GREEN 70 was crewed by
· MAJ Robert B. Swenck, pilot;
· CPT John W. George; copilot;
· TSGT James R. Thomas, pararescueman;
· SGT R. L. Sneed, pararescueman;
· SGT H. L. Theriot, flight engineer; and
· A1C Thomas D. Prose, pararescueman.
The two JOLLY GREENs departed Can Tho in tactical formation for the 95-mile flight to Bien Hoa to the northeast. During the return flight, they encountered a 100 foot to 300 foot high cloud overcast with moderate to heavy rain showers. At 1550 hours, while flying below the cloud cover, JOLLY GREEN 73 lost contact with JOLLY GREEN 70. When radio contact could not be reestablished search and rescue efforts were begun. JOLLY GREEN 70 was located approximately 18 nautical miles southeast of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon, in a tributary ( Song Na) of the Nha Be River, near the village of of Anh Toi Dong, Quang Xuyen District, Gia Dinh Province, South Vietnam. The aircraft wreckage was close to the north bank of the river. While the south bank of the river was secure, the north side was considered enemy territory.
Two crewmen (Theriot and Sneed) survived the crash and reported that the aircraft had been hit by enemy ground fire. Sgt H. L. Theriot was rescued by HM1 T. Eagles a USMC Advisor and four VN Regional Force soldiers. Sgt. R. L. Sneed was rescued by a local VN fisherman Mr. Pham Van Dieu and turned over to HM1 Eagles. The next evening a local fisherman found the remains of A1C Thomas D. Prose floating in the Song Na he reported to HM1 Eagles who spent the night alone with the remains while in a small local fishing boat tied off to the remains in the water which were still attached to the after gunners belt and thus the helicopter was now located. There were reports from a local fisherman that a third person was sighted alive in the water after the crash; this person was tentatively identified as TSGT Thomas. Salvage efforts began at once, with US Navy salvage divers locating and searching the submerged wreckage. The aircraft was raised with cables and the bodies of Major Swenck, Captain George were recovered. While the wreckage was being towed to a more secure location, the cabling broke and the wreckage sank once more. On 27 November, divers once again searched the wreckage for Thomas' body, and the wreck was raised a second time for a further search. Thomas was not found, nor was he found during ground searches of the river banks downstream. His body was never recovered.More Public Affairs