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Leg 15: Chiang Mai (VTCC) to Dien Bien (VVDB) Part 2


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"Must be something important", Hal commented as we headed back towards the aircraft. Midge had started the engines after the local crew had finished their checks. "And in this weather, too". The mist had come down soon after we'd finished our mid-day meal in the mess - it had looked like chicken, but that's no guarantee - and now it was raining quite hard. Both Hal and Midge had accompanied me to the afternoon briefing with the station chief. I'd hoped for a less conspicuous aircraft, but the old An-2 was out of action. The Russian built bi-plane had been captured in South Vietnam, dismantled and brought here for the odd trip across the border. Unfortunately, the fuel system was too unreliable for the flight to Dien Bien and back, so it was back to the Dizzie - and Hal.

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Without the cargo we'd brought in, the Old Girl fairly leapt into the air, with Hal at the controls. "Don't worry, Mate, you'll get your turn when it's my break!" He'd not been quite so sanguine at the briefing. "Let me get this straight - just drop him off as close to D.B. as I can get on this side of the frontier? At night and with this visibilty? And then get back without..." For a moment, I thought Hal would back off. It might be a tight squeeze for me to get across the border, but at least I'd have my feet on terra firma. Midge chipped in with: "Maybe some R-and-R in Saigon is coming up, eh, Boss?" Hal looked to the chief, who nodded. "Right", said Hal, nodding at me, "Take off at 16.30. Better get your feet up for some rest." We returned to the mess hall, which had some easy chairs. I left them snoozing - I needed to check out my gear.

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The setting sun created a rosy backdrop as Hal banked to port.

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Our flight plan was simply to head due north - the 100 mile leg should take roughly an hour. The Dien Bien Phu airfield was, according to Hal, relatively easy to spot, even at night, at the northern end of a cultivated valley, bounded on the west by a high ridge, which was the frontier. Hal was to keep as low as the cloud would permit - just below the tops of the hills.

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As the sun went down, thunderclouds crept towards us. The landscape lit up with irregular lightning flashes, revealing us as clear as if we'd been caught in a searchlight beam.

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"Well, at least we can read the instruments", Hal joked as the lightning lit up the cabin's interior. "Take over the controls while I take a break." Hal opened the cabin door - "Put the kettle on, Midge - and make a nice sweet one for our guest!"

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Below us, the jungle was dark - no lights indicating any sort of life. Well, at least there was no-one to hear us flying over their heads. Hal brought back some coffee and more egg rolls on a plate: "Midge thought you might be peckish." The thought of the parachute jump ahead had taken away any hunger I might have had for these delicacies, so I declined, yet again.

He took back control and the plane rumbled on, buffeted by the occasional pocket of turbulence. After a while, an area of dim illumination appeared to starboard. "That's where you're bound, Mate - Dien Bien. Last time I was there they were filling in the trenches the Frenchies had vacated - watch out, the security's supposed to be tight."

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I'd given my kit to Midge after boarding, but before leaving the cockpit, I shook Hal's hand and thanked him for the ride. "No worries, Mate - and Good Luck - you're gonna need it!" Midge helped me strap on the harness and I checked the contents of the rucksack on my chest. Mustn't forget the reason for all this parlaver, I thought. Leaning out of the doorway, I looked down:

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The chute opened as the 'plane continued without me.

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The moon gave just about enough light for me to see the jungle canopy coming up and, as luck would have it, I found a clearing for landing.

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Heading east, up and over the ridge, wasn't easy - just the odd shaft of moonlight and the compass guiding me eastwards. Hal's positioning had been nigh-on perfect - when I reached the edge of the trees, the temple was clearly visible.

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Taking care not to disturb the locals, I made my way towards the airfield perimiter. The RV was at the maintenance hangar, and it looked as if they were working late.

Leg_15_31_Airfield_RV_Sighted.jpg

Where they'd dug up the old 2A from, I had no idea, but its headlamps flashed as I approached. "You'd have been more comfortable if you'd come with Vietnam Airlines", he joked, "But not quite as exciting, I guess." I'd experienced Guy's droll sense of humour in Hanoi on a previous occassion.

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"Don't like the airline food", I answered, as I handed him the container - "Look after this for us." He passed me a holdall with my change of clothes. "Make yourself respectable, they still expect their russian advisors to be reasonably dressed." I scanned the contents of the file - Dimitri Czseznovski, telecommunications engineer, born Tbilisi, etc - the usual cover. "Xotite potancevat?", I asked - "Just get in, Laddie" was Guy's answer.

 

That's it Folks. Hope you enjoyed the bumpy ride... :thum:

 

Cheers - Dai. :cool:

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Dai, you bu**er.

I had my story planned for my stint at leg19, which included a bluddy parachute drop into North Korea.

Well I can't use that now can I...

'Course you can, Bri' - go for it, Mate!! You'll love the feeling of freedom - 'til you hit the deck! :thum:

Cheers - Dai. :cool:

P.S. Is 'bu**er' the same as 'b*gg*r'?!?

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