Crew members push a Huey helicopter into the ocean to make room on the Kirk's small deck for more incoming crafts carrying Vietnamese refugees.
Soon after being rescued from the sea -- after saving the lives of his family and crew -- the hero pilot of the ditched CH-47 Chinook (Maj. Ba Nguyen, VNAF, in white shirt) describes his brush with death to LT Rick Sautter, KIRK's senior LAMPS pilot.
On April 29, 1975, as Saigon was falling to Communist North Vietnamese forces, a small U.S. Navy destroyer escort ship, the USS Kirk, played a dramatic but almost forgotten role in rescuing up to 30,000 South Vietnamese. Here, a member of the USS Kirk's crew tends to a Vietnamese baby.
KIRK sailors rest briefly after muscling the wheel-less HUEY across the flight deck, into position for jettisoning over the side. Note the HUEY in the background, sitting on KIRK's small fantail, a deck below the flight deck. This HUEY was expertly flown from the flight deck down to the fantail by the LAMPS pilots of KIRK's Air Department, saved, and eventually off-loaded in Subic Bay.
KIRK sailors back away from their heavy burden as the "immutable law of gravity" takes over. This was the "point of no return," as the helicopter gave up its grip on the flight deck coaming and plunged into the South China Sea. (Note the "saved" HUEY one deck below on KIRK's small fantail.)
One of fourteen Vietnamese UH-1 HUEY helicopters jettisoned from KIRK to make room for the next overloaded helo to land. These abandoned helos were left astern in KIRK's wake. They floated for a brief time, and usually sank within a minute or two. Most now lie in just a couple hundred feet of water, as the South China Sea is relatively shallow in that region.
KIRK's motor whale boat (center, flying the Stars and Stripes) moved from boat to boat, inspecting the scores of small fishing craft abandoned by escaping refugees after being taken aboard USN, MSC, and merchant rescue ships. The fate of these abandoned vessels is unknown. They either sank eventually, or drifted back to the coast of Vietnam.
A young Vietnamese refugee -- one of the thousands aboard this ship -- emerges from a makeshift temporary shelter on her ship. KIRK was tied up alongside this ship (probably HQ-3) while helping her engineers repair her generator. (Photo by OS3 Jim ("Bon") Bongaard.)
A Vietnamese LSM, HQ-402, with more than 2,000 refugees onboard was sinking in the VN Navy rendezvous area at Con Son Island. The VN Navy flagship, HQ-3, tied up alongside the sinking HQ- 402, and transferred all her refugees to HQ-3 over makeshift planks. Two refugees were unfortunately lost in the transfer. HQ-402 sank soon after. This photo shows the beginning of the transfer, with KIRK's 26' motor whale boat standing by alongside.