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RECOLLECTION OF AFTN - UDORN CRASH  by Jim Treat

 
I was assigned to the AFRTS station at NKP, Thailand on 1 Dec 69, programmed to replace the Station Manager upon his departure to the ZI (ConUS) in early '70.  Since this was my first assignment to AFRTS I was given blanket TDY orders to all Armed Forces Thailand Network (AFTN) locations to broaden my knowledge of various station operations and their individual requirements.  As such I visited the Udorn station in early April.  While there I met all station personnel and worked closely with the station manager, TSgt Jack Lynch and Radio Programming Director, SSgt Ed Strain.  Ed and I had been roommates the preceding year when we attended the Radio/Television Broadcast School at Ft. Harrison, IN. 
 
When I returned I briefed all personnel on how the Udorn operations coincided with those at NKP.  They wanted to know if I'd met all of the Udorn AFTN people since I think it was SSgt Al Potter and TSgt Frank Ryan had previously served at NKP and arranged to get transferred to Udorn for personal reasons.  A/1c Jim Brisbois ask if he could get a couple of days TDY to Udorn so that he could observe their operation and visit with his uncle who was stationed there.  I took care of this and Jim caught the Klong Hopper a few days later.
 
I don't recall the day of the week, but on 17 April 70, early in the afternoon A1C Frank Stanton, who was our News Director came into my office and said I needed to check the teletype machine "RIGHT  NOW."  We had two (2) machines that brought us news from AP, UPI, Reuters and AFTN Headquarters in Korat.  The one (1) line message read: "AFTN-Udorn hit by damaged aircraft. No survivors."  There was no date/time group of sender ID.  I ask Frank to reply asking for authentication.  We received nothing back.  I then tried to call the Udorn station on the landline, but the call would not go through.  Within five (5) minutes we received another message, this time from Hq, AFTN stating the previous message was sent in error and should be disregarded.  All station personnel on duty were clustered in the news room and surmised that the original message was more than likely true.
 
Approximately an hour later an official message came down the line stating an F-4 aircraft, returning from North Vietnam with battle damage had in fact crashed into the AFTN-Udorn station killing all personnel within the building.  (I heard later that a janitor cleaning the main hallway had in fact ran out the door that was at the end of the hall.  He survived despite severe burns.)   I called the AFTN Deputy Commander, Captain Dick Horner (?) and advised him A/1c Brisbois could possibly be among those that perished.  He stated he would immediately contact Udorn and ask them to check. 
 
Around 1800hrs I received a phone call from Jim letting me know he was Okay and more or less giving me a "first person" report.  It seems he had decided to take a late lunch and meet his uncle at the base swimming pool snack bar which was in close proximity to the AFTN station.  They were sitting there when they heard a large thunder like clap and looked to see an F-4 bounce off the roof of a nearby two (2) story wooden barracks and disappear from sight between other buildings.  Almost immediately there was a tremendous explosion and flames, debris and smoke filled the air just a couple of blocks away.  Jim stated that he knew at once it either came from the AFTN station or a building close by.  He and his uncle started to run in that direction, but were stopped by the heat and smoke. 
 
Later in the evening I received another message from Hq, AFTN asking for an inventory of all excess equipment that could possibly be used in getting AFTN-Udorn back on the air.  We did this and a few days later shipped all the equipment, tapes and records we could operate without to Udorn.
 
This disaster directly effected numerous AFTN-NKP personnel since they personally knew several of those who died on a personal, as well as professional level.  As stated previously Ed Strain and I had been roommates at DINFOS for almost eight (8) weeks since he was in the class directly behind me.  However, he had arrived in Thailand before I did since I was on a controlled tour and delayed until Nov 69.
 
I met Jack Lynch again at a Station Manager's conference in Korat.  Jack told me that he had left the building and was gping to the base dispensary to have the station's First Aid Kit replenished.  As he was walking up the street he heard a loud roar and turned around to see the aircraft strike the AFTN building.  This conversation took place in the summer of '70 and I could tell he was still having a hard time of it.  He'd been given a 30 day leave in the States immediately after the crash, but the effect was evident.
 
I still recall the events of that fateful day, despite the fact the exact day of the week escapes my memory.  When you work 12/6 the days pretty much tend to run together.  I can vividly recall the good times Ed and I had at the Ft. Harrison NCO Club, common trial and tribulations with our class studies, plus the trek he took me on of the Udorn bars and joints when I as there TDY.  Okay, so I only remember about half of that trip ........!
 
I visited DINFOS, Ft. Harrison in the early 80's.  A memorial plaque was displayed near the main entrance dedicated to all those at AFTN-Udorn who lost their lives that day.  I have no idea where that plaque is now since Ft. Harrison has been deactivated.
 
Jim Treat
AFTN-NKP,  Dec 69 - Nov 70
05 Jan 03