The Mountain Looms

P-2 NeptuneSometime during the summer of 1959 I was on one of our missions as a Combat Aircrewman in a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft patrolling the East China Sea. Our mission, that day, was to depart our home base at Naha, Okinawa, patrol thousands of square miles of ocean to plot shipping traffic, and land at Tainan, Taiwan. After ten hours of patrol, we were approaching our destination of Tainan. About an hour before, we had encountered scattered clouds, and as we got within approximately seventy-five miles of our destination, we flew into broken clouds. Visibility was very poor, as we broke out of the cloud cover only occasionally. Our pilot called Tainan Approach Control for a radar guided approach to the Chinese Nationalist airbase at Tainan. The person who responded to us was a Chinese controller who spoke broken English. This was not uncommon, and usually caused no problems. This time, it was different, however. The controller then asked us to shut down our radar as it interfered with his. I, as radar operator, did not like that, but it couldn’t be helped. We were then flying blind with our only eyes being many miles away at the control site.

The Chinese controller first told us to transmit a certain code on our IFF, which was a means of identifying certain aircraft on his radar scope. He then told us to turn left and transmit a different code. After a few seconds, the controller said he had our location spotted. He then told us to descend from twenty-five hundred feet to fifteen hundred feet, and take a heading of 180 degrees. We were in dense cloud cover as we descended, and were still in it when we got there. The controller let us fly 180 degrees for a few minutes, then told us to turn left to 095 degrees. We were to fly that heading for ten minutes, at which time he would give us a new heading. We had flown the heading about five minutes, breaking out of the cloud cover once or twice for a few seconds. We had another five minutes to fly, when we broke out of the cloud cover again. We were headed directly for a collision with a five thousand-foot mountain which was about one quarter mile ahead. I was looking through the cockpit, and could see the mountain directly ahead, It looked like we couldn’t possibly miss it. The pilot turned the aircraft violently to the left, as we pulled five Gs, just barely missing some rocks and trees. It’s really difficult to say how close we got, but it was close enough to see individual leaves on the trees. Then we were back in the clouds again.

As we pulled out of our close call, the pilot called Tainan Approach Control, told them of our mishap, and asked for an American controller to bring us in. Quickly, an American speaking controller took over, and began locating us. He had us send our code over the IFF again, three times, with course changes in between. The new controller said he had us located, which was a spot about fifty-five miles from where the Chinese controller said we were. Our pilot asked him if he was sure, because he said, “We can’t afford another close call with a five thousand-foot mountain.” The American controller assured us that he had us located. Indeed he did, because he brought us into the control of GCA, which is Ground Controlled Approach, who brought us in for a successful landing under the adverse visual conditions.


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