Rescue of Dustoff 65

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Rescue of Dustoff 65
12th Cavalry Air Assault Vietnam.jpg
A UH-1 Iroquois in Vietnam, similar to Dustoff 65
Date 3–7 April 1968
Location A Shau Valley, about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Huế, South Vietnam
Result United States defensive victory
 United States FNL Flag.svg Viet Cong
Vietnam North Vietnam
C/2/502, 101st Airborne Division North Vietnamese Army (NVA)
Casualties and losses
1 killed (Crew-chief James Richardson) Unknown

The Rescue of Dustoff 65 was a battle in April 1968, during the Vietnam War. A Medivac helicopter was preparing to evacuate wounded soldiers from the United States 101st Airborne Division when a rocket hit the tail rotor, forcing the helicopter down into the jungle. A rescue team spent five days finding, retrieving and extracting the men from the crashed helicopter while fighting off communist forces.


Following the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War American forces tried to limit arms and material from being resupplied to depleted enemy units via the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Supplies flowed through the A Shau Valley, about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Huế, South Vietnam. There elements of the 101st Airborne Division would frequently interact with NVA units. On 3 April 1968 during one such firefight the 101st took several casualties that required immediate medical evacuation.[1]

A Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter (serial number: 66-17043) from the 498th Medical Company, 55th Medical Group, 44th Medical Brigade, originally from Fort Benning, operating under callsign Dustoff 65, was assigned to evacuate the wounded.[1] Due to the thick jungle foliage the helicopter could not land and so the Americans used a "jungle penetrator", which is a wedge-shaped stand attached to the helicopter's winch,[2] to lift the wounded from the jungle floor to the hovering helicopter.[3]

On board Dustoff 65 were:[3]

  • Pilot First Lieutenant Ben Knisely
  • Co-Pilot First Lieutenant Mike Meyer
  • Crew Chief James Richardson
  • Medic Bruce Knipe

Crash and rescue[edit]

As the helicopter was hovering above the canopy a North Vietnamese Army rocket struck the tail rotor, resulting in a controlled crash landing a short distance away. In John Cook's book he claims that medic Bruce Knipe and crew chief James Richardson were blown from the helicopter but Knipe claims his safety harness (nicknamed the Monkey tail) kept him in the aircraft.[4][5]

At the medic evacuation site Lieutenant Tim Lickness, from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, saw the helicopter go down and immediately arranged for a five-man strike team to try and rescue the downed crew of Dustoff 65. Four hours later, after trudging through thick jungle, with at least one enemy contact, Lickness' team found the two survivors, Medic Bruce Knipe and co-pilot Lt. Mike Meyer. The group discovered the medic in a tree with a broken hip while they were returning to American lines.[6] Richardson's body was not found for several weeks. It took almost the whole day to extract the men to the 101st Airborne Division position and another three days to clear a big enough landing pad for another helicopter to land.[3]

When the 498th's commander, Lt. Col. Byron P. Howlett, Jr., learned of the downed helicopter he personally oversaw the extraction operation, including piloting the helicopter that finally extracted the men from the Dustoff 65 crew and the original wounded from the 101st Airborne Division.[7]


  1. ^ a b 2007
  2. ^ Pilsch, Thomas (n.d.). "Jungle Penetrator (Forest Penetrator)". Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Lickness 1998
  4. ^ Knipe 2012
  5. ^ Cook 1998, p. 120
  6. ^ Dorland & Nanney 1982, p. 93
  7. ^ Dorland & Nanney 1982, p. 94