The Rescue of Bat-21
by Darrel D. Whitcomb
"Bat 21" is a report of one of the most bizarre rescues of
the Vietnam War. Colonel Iceal Hambleton was recovered from
enemy territory in northern South Vietnam after
11and1/2days on the ground. This was the largest rescue
operation in USAF history.
On April 2, 1972, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of
Vietnam, a US Air Force forward air controller, FAC pilot,
using the call-sign Bilk 34 broadcast an urgent plea. The
request was for assistance in rescuing any survivor of an
EB-66 radar surveillance aircraft that was just shot down.
The plane had been struck by a surface -to-air missile
fired by the North Vietnamese Army. A single chute had been
observed to open, followed by a desperate call for help, so
at least one survivor was confirmed.
Hambleton, the navigator, was the only survivor. He reached
the ground safely, however, he found that he had landed
near a village that housed a large number of enemy troops.
While awaiting rescue, Hambleton directed USAF aircraft and
they destroyed many enemy vehicles on the highways. A plan
was devised to direct him by radio contact with a forward
air controller aircraft to a safer pick-up point. USAF
reconnaissance aircraft photographed the area and photo
analysts laid out a course for him to follow to a river two
In order to better guide Hambleton and knowing that he was
an avid golfer who had memorized every course on which he
had ever played, a very unusual plan was devised. Using
specific holes at certain courses to establish distance and
direction of travel, Hambleton was guided safely past enemy
camps, gun emplacements, unfriendly villages, and then
downstream to a rescue point.
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