(See Part 1 HERE.)

Moments after the last engine on the Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion died, the heavy-lift helicopter began full autorotation, heading toward the Laotian jungle at more than 100 miles per hour while carrying the command element, intelligence documents, and more than 40 troops. These men were the last elements from the top-secret MACV-SOG B Company hatchet force that had just completed a rigorous and deadly mission deep into southern Laos to take pressure off of the CIA’s Operation Gauntlet.

In the afternoon of Sept. 14, 1970, Marine Corps pilot 1st Lt. Don Persky had no time to celebrate climbing over two granite-faced mountains with only one engine in the large warbird. He and co-pilot 1st Lt. Bill Battey were desperately searching for a clearing to land the large, six-rotor helicopter—any clearing large enough to land while in autorotation. In the back of the helicopter, Green Beret medic Sgt. Mike Rose was working on Marine Corps door gunner Sgt. Stevens’s severely bleeding neck wound received from enemy gunfire.

After the second engine died, Persky descended toward one canyon, which led to another canyon with no clearing in sight. “To be blunt, there was no fucking place to go,” Persky said.

And then divine intervention: Persky and Battey saw a body of water “with a little patch of beach. It was just blind luck, not know what was there, or, God was with us,” Persky said. With blood running, and with hydraulic fluid and aviation fuel leaking in the passenger compartment, Persky headed in that direction.

At first, he thought about landing in the water to buffer some of the impact of landing. “Then I remembered,” Persky said, “we had wounded in the back. I didn’t want to take a chance of having anyone drowning.” So he headed the wounded chopper toward what appeared to be a sandy beach area next to the water, even though it was slanted to the right.

All of this happened in a matter of seconds. “We were going down about 6,000 feet a minute,” he said. “At that point, we needed high air speed to use the energy to keep the rotors going.” This was essential: The autorotation factor would keep the aircraft moving forward instead of dropping from the sky. The plan was to flare, a procedure where the rotors’ angle of pitch is changed to slow down the rate of descent.

“I started to flare, thinking we had enough time to decrease our speed more…I pulled the collective hard. I had it pulled up to my armpit.” In a helicopter, the collective lever is on the left side of the pilot’s seat, and it changes the pitch angle on the helicopter’s main rotors. In this case, Persky was decreasing the Sea Stallion’s speed, hoping to minimize the final impact of landing in full autoration—something no aviator had done up to that point in time with a loaded helicopter. Persky said, “It didn’t slow our air speed as much as I had hoped it would. It was supposed to cushion us more. It didn’t.” What’s more, that beach had a huge boulder on it that slanted to the right.