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‘Lair’ of Vietnam’s ‘King Cobra’ fighter jets – P5: Nerve-racking jet rescues

Wednesday, January 13, 2016, 16:54 GMT+7

Fighter pilots in Russian-made Su-30MK2 jets are not only skilled in maneuvering the state-of-the-art planes but are also unwaveringly dedicated to the warplanes in dire emergencies, even when it may cost their own lives.

During one of their visits at the 935 Fighter Jet Regiment, stationed in Bien Hoa City, around 30 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, a Russian aviation pundit expressed his admiration for the regiment’s Su-30MK2 pilots to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters.

“Your pilots are truly outstanding and intrepid. In emergencies in which their colleagues in Russia or other countries would make parachute jumps for their lives, Vietnamese pilots keep their composure, fight to the very end and manage to land the jets safely,” he said.

According to Colonel Nguyen Xuan Tuyen, deputy head of Division 370, which the 935 Fighter Jet Regiment belongs to, aviation training manuals typically detail responses to between 60 and 70 urgent situations.

However, in reality fliers are faced with emergencies not yet described in any textbooks.

“It takes the men great mental strength and admirable expertise to handle such crises,” he stressed.

One such special circumstance is his own feat of saving a Su-30MK2 jet at a height of 600 kilometers from the ground during his tenure at the 935 Fighter Jet Regiment.

Col. Tuyen recounted that at around 1:00 pm on April 9, 2011, after patrolling over the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago in the East Vietnam Sea, he and his crew members detected plummeting pressure in the ‘King Cobra’s left red oil system on their way back to the mainland.

“The pressure plunged to 0 within seconds. The grim prospect of a broken red oil system, which means the plane could catch fire, instantly crossed my mind,” he further recalled.

Col. Tuyen was maneuvering the jet in its rear compartment, while Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Gia Nhan was in the front cockpit.

Col. Tuyen, the flight’s first pilot, immediately requested permission to shut down the left engine of the hydraulic system, while the right engine was not functioning properly due to overloading.

Black smoke billowed from the craft’s tail.

The pilots were ‘bombarded’ with automatic emergency instructions in Russian and those from their commanders, which might have baffled them. As their location was 600 kilometers from the regiment’s base in Bien Hoa City, they sought permission for a crash landing at Phan Rang Airport, located in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, approximately 400 kilometers away.

The crew then slowly decelerated to less than 600 kilometers per hour to keep the jet from shaking furiously.

“If we had panicked or made a wrong move, the plane would have been engulfed in flames,” Col. Tuyen added.

They were in for another hurdle at Phan Rang Airport, where adverse wind gusts were raging.

The men strained to keep balance, preventing the jet from veering from the runway.

Following the successful landing, the pilots made use of the excess speed to move the jet aside and make room for the second plane that landed shortly after that.

Refusal to parachute

Meanwhile, Colonel Dao Quoc Khang, the 935 Fighter Jet Regiment’s political commissar, was highly revered for another miraculous Su-30MK2 rescue.

At 10:44 am on October 12, 2007, Khang was then a lieutenant colonel and Flying Team 1’s political officer.

At a mere height of around 20 meters from the ground, the jet shook vehemently and tilted to its right following a loud noise from inside the engine.

“I thought a bird must have intruded on the engine,” Col. Khang recalled.

Blinking lights and noises in the cockpit signaled a fire in the right engine.

Khang stayed composed, shut down the engines, and pressed a firefighting button. 

He managed to stabilize the craft, using the other engine, and moved it to the north of the airport for a landing.

From the control tower, the flight’s commander spotted a spark of fire at the jet’s tail. It was announced as an emergency.

“The two red oil systems have broken. Open your parachute now,” the signaling system repeatedly warned.

“The plane might go up in flames in such a situation. However, I had a gut feeling that the jet was still maneuverable. I then gained height, and released oil to relieve some weight off the ‘King Cobra’,” Col. Khang added.

As soon as the craft landed, the flight’s commander was stunned to see it was still in flames.

The seasoned pilot with over 700 flying hours ground the jet to a complete halt and switched off all power sources before scrambling out of the plane.

Two fire brigades and a ground response team dashed to the fiery jet.

“It was so dangerous then, as the jet could have exploded at anytime. We were just focused on how to salvage the jet,” Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Xuan Thach, who joined the firefighting team that day, recalled.

The extraordinary feat elevated Khang to a higher army rank sooner than expected.

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