Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one, two, three, four, and five 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.