CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 JOHN S. ADCOCK
F Company, 1st Battalion,
160th Special Operations Air Regiment (A)
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
It was the beginning of December at Camp Taegu, South Korea. I was in the seventh month of my second tour of duty assigned to the same medevac unit based at Camp Humphreys. I was only a week away from going on mid-tour leave to the states for Christmas with my wife and children.
As I had done so many times before, I was performing my first-up duties, waiting for a phone call for a medevac. As luck would have it, at about 1900 hours, we were called by the troop medical clinic at Camp Taegu for an air evacuation of a dependent wife because of complications related to her pregnancy. The crew prepared for the flight while I, as the pilot in command, called for a weather brief and filed a flight plan.
The weather report called for a ceiling of 5,000 feet with scattered clouds with 6,000 meters of visibility due to haze and fog in the low-lying areas, increasing to clear sky and unrestricted visibility one hour after takeoff. I was very familiar with the area between Camp Taegu and our destination in Seoul since I had done this trip numerous times.
I met the crew at the aircraft (UH-60A), conducted a crew update brief and we proceeded to reposition to the pickup point. After we had repositioned about 150 yards from the parking pad, one of our second-up crew members approached the aircraft and stated there would be a 15-minute delay because the patient was waiting on an overnight bag. That 15 minutes turned into 30, and then 45. Finally, the patient arrived and we departed, still well within our weather void time.
We began our flight with no urgency since the patient had no problem waiting for her makeup bag before we could leave. It was a beautiful, clear night and it seemed you could see every star in the sky. However, about 30 minutes into the flight, the visibility appeared to degrade to a little over a mile. It then began to snow pretty heavily as we approached the highest ridgeline we needed to cross in the southern part of the country to make it to less mountainous terrain. We continued to follow a draw up from the valley over a small town that was lit up like Christmas. We got lower and slower until we were about to cross when I saw there was no way we could without going inadvertently into the clouds.
We turned back and within about five minutes were out of the snowstorm. We climbed to instrument meteorological altitude, filed an instrument flight plan and proceeded to a fuel stop at Camp Humphreys. We completed the mission by conducting a patient handoff to our first-up crew located at Camp Humphreys.
After a quick fuel stop and weather update, we departed for the return flight to Taegu. I gave the observer a time and location of the unforecasted snowstorm that most likely had moved or dissipated. We then departed under visual flight rules since the weather report had now improved to clear skies and unrestricted visibility. We proceeded on the same route we attempted earlier. As we came to the ridgeline north of the town with the snowstorm, we saw giant stanchions with 3-inch cables that crossed the draw from the ridgeline to a spur just over the north side of the town.
The wires were not posted on the supposedly up-to-date map we had. As it turned out, we had flown under the wires not once, but twice, and never knew it. When I returned to check my map with the hazard map, I found that the wires were not posted on the Taegu map. However, the master hazard map at Humphreys was up to date with the wires posted.
The situation could have had a tragic ending. We were fortunate to not encounter the wires. We double-check everything in aviation. Make sure you do the same with your maps and posted hazards.