YK-9 Suffers Synchronization Shaft Failure

The Crew of YK-9: BuNo 153996

1stLt. Kozai, Kenneth, Bruce K. Pilot 
1stLt. Reardon, Dennis Joseph Co-Pilot-
Sgt. Mattingly, John Eugene  Gunner
Cpl. Leffler, Richard John Crew Chief
Cpl. Parsons, Henry Bennett III Gunner
Cdr. Lederman, Melvin  Navy Doctor
HM3 Garrett, James Michael  Navy Corpsman

On Saturday,  November 29, 1969 the above crew were tasked with evacuating a seriously wounded Marine in southern Quang Nam province somewhere south of LZ Ross.  The crash of YK-9 was the result of the failure of the synchronization shaft running between the forward and aft transmissions.  This allowed the intermeshing rotor blades to make contact with each other and sheared them off while the aircraft was in flight.  The total destruction of the aircraft made it extremely difficult to determine if the synchronization shaft failure was due to direct enemy action or simply a mechanical failure.  When the wreckage was returned to Marble Mountain Air Facility, the squadron's Executive Officer, Major Jack Pipa, spent hours examining the wreckage and determined a 50cal (or Russian 51cal) round had entered the bottom of the aircraft, continued through the radio cabinet behind the cockpit and then striking the synchronization shaft causing it to fail.


Upon requesting information from the Marines who were assigned to the squadron when the incident occurred it became apparent that varied and diverse recollections of Cdr. Melvin Lederman existed.  This epilogue is presented to clarify why Cdr. Lederman was often found in and around the squadron area requesting to fly on missions which normally were not flown by Navy medical doctors.

Capt. Bill Swartz was possibly the first member of the squadron to meet Cdr. Lederman during Jungle Escape and Survival Training (JEST) at Nas Cubi Point in the Philippines.  Bill relates, "I met Cdr. Lederman in April '69 and at that time he just wanted to "get the experience" of being on Medevac flights.  I told him to come over to Marble and I'd let him talk to LtCol. Brady, the skipper.  He did so (at least he talked to somebody, maybe XO or OPSO), and got the OK to fly as an observer and stay out of the way.  After a while, I heard rumors that he was after a strike/flight air medal.  I don't see how this could be done, because he wasn't on flight skins.  He was an enigma to me.  It seemed like he wasn't really needed at his parent command, and could roam all over Vietnam at will.  After a while he sort of disappeared, and then the next thing I knew was that he was on Ken Kozai's bird when it crashed."

The enigma which Capt. Swartz perceived was prevalent with other members of the squadron who viewed him as a medical doctor and wondered why he was along on some of their more dangerous missions without his medical bag and why he did not assist the corpsmen administering to seriously wounded Marines aboard the medevac helicopters.

LtCol. Charles R. Dunbaugh, the squadron's commanding officer from 08-22-69 to 02-25-70, relates,"He was not a Medical Doctor who looks after the wellness of the physical body, but either a PSYCHOLOGIST or PSYCHIATRIST.  In my few discussions with him, he first wanted to ride in the MedEvac so he would have an understanding of the stress and pressure crew members go through in carrying out their tasks.  Secondly, he wanted to see the condition of those being evacuated and hear their initial comments when brought aboard the helicopter so that he would be able to relate to them better at the hospital, be it a ship or land based.  He was and should have been listed as a PASSENGER on all YELLOW SHEETS."
(After LtCol. Dunbaugh's death it was verified that Cdr. Lederman was a surgeon serving aboard the hospital ship Repose)

David Kehoe relates, "On November 28th, the day prior to the crash of YK-9, I had flown with this same crew.    As I recall on this day, I flew as left gunner, Rich Leffler was right gunner and Sgt. Mattingly was listed as crew chief.  However, I do believe this was Rich Leffler’s regular aircraft as crew chief.  I had flown with him many times, he as crew chief and I as a gunner, usually left.  We had also been both stationed together in the same squadron at New River.  I believe Leffler may have been qualifying Mattingly to become a crew chief.

At no time on the day I flew with them did Cdr. Lederman function as a gunner or ask to be a gunner.  I had never really understood what his position on this flight was, it had always seemed quite odd to me.  Now, having read Col. Dunbaugh’s narrative, it makes more sense to me.  He did seem to be more of an observer, than a member of that crew.  He seemed to spend his time sitting and watching everything going on around him.

The night of the 28th I was in charge of the Avionics shop night crew, my regular MOS.  We worked a lot of hours that night and because of that I was scratched from flight status the next morning.  For some reason, the same crew was to fly together the next day also.  Something to this day I find very out of the ordinary.  The same crew, with the exception of myself being replaced by Cpl. "Bud" Parsons as the other gunner, flew together again on the 29th and all died.

Since this crew was performing no “SPECIAL” mission I have always found it odd that a crew was kept together for 2 days.  It does however, make some sense if they were being observed by Cdr. Lederman looking for stress related matters. Seeing the same crew for a couple of days would help the doctor in his observations.

When I had found out on the 29th what had happened to the flight, I was stunned and shocked.  I remember speaking to the recovery crew, before and after they went out.  Knowing they were all dead and my name was on that flight schedule has haunted me for lot of years".

Bruce L. Williams-Burden recalls, "This whole incident has haunted me for many years as Jim Garrett, the corpsman, and I switched flights that day in order to get him off the medevac rotation as he was going home in several days.  I also remember Cdr. Lederman well as he took a keen interest in our medevac activities.  I do not recall ever believing him to be a medical doctor, nor of any urge to fly as a gunner to shoot someone or something.  He was a nice man who sat and listened to us as we told him about our activities."

Information of this incident provided by:
    Charles J. Schoener, III, Col. USMC (Ret)
    Charles R. Dunbaugh, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    F.A. Gulledge, Jr. Major USMC (Ret)
    David Bjork, Major USMC (Ret)
    Bill Schwartz, former Capt. USMCR
    Dennis, Welsh, former Sgt. USMC
    David F. Kehoe, former Sgt. USMC
    Bruce L. Williams-Burden, former HM2 USN
    Barry Hoffman

Last updated: October 20, 2005

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