Ted Soliday should be dead. So should Nelson Hall, his co-pilot. At least that’s what logic, reason and flight manuals say about certain helicopter crashes.
But, after falling 5,000 ft.
In an uncontrolled spinning dive and crashing into a mountain in their Ah-1G Cobra, they survived.
First Lts. Ted Soliday and Nelson Hall were pilots with the Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 367 Marble Mountain Air Facility.
The Gunship Pilots were providing air cover for a reconnaissance team that was being inserted in the mountains surrounding “Happy Valley” 20 miles west of the base. They were cruising at about 5,000 ft., when the tail rotor, part of the vertical stabilizer and the 90-degree gear box were blown off the chopper.
With the side to side control of the tail rotor gone, The Cobra immediately went into a deep dive, spinning like a top.
“I knew I was dead,” Soliday said. “When you lose your tail rotor you no longer have a helicopter, “You have about a 9000 lb. Rock.”
As the aircraft sped towards the ground, Soliday fought the controls with all his strength. “We were spinning so fast I couldn’t make reference to the ground to see where we were going to hit, I remember saying out loud, that’s it, I‘ve lost control.”
Thinking Soliday needed help, Hall made a frantic grab at the controls, finding Soliday still fighting the spin. Hall wedged himself down in his seat to keep from being forced against the canopy by the terrific centrifugal force.
“Just before we hit the ground,” Soliday said “I gave it all I had on the controls. I managed to slow our descent a little and to increase the Arc of the spin; I think saved our lives.”
Soliday’s last ditch effort caused the Cobra to pancake into the mountain and tumble down the slope. When the chopper finally came to a stop, neither pilot could believe they were still alive.
The crash was ruled a result of direct enemy action. The Ah-1G Cobra was a total loss. Ted Soliday got a small cut on his arm and Hall cut his nose.
“Even after that terrifying trip,” ( chuckled Soliday) “We still had room for humor”. “Hall crawled out first and tried to help me get out. He fell down the hill. Every time he came back up he would just about make it and back down he would go. “
“I cut my way thru the canopy with my knife, got out and fell down the hill with Lt. Hall. I had my Survival Knife in one hand and my gun in the other and as I was rolling down the hill I thought to myself, ” I hope I don’t stab or shoot myself on the way down “.
After they got their bearings straightened out and realizing that there was nowhere for the Marine rescue team to get in for a rescue, Ted noticed a clearing a couple hundred yards away and got on his handheld two-way radio and radioed his wingman, who was circling above, “we’re going over there”, (and heard nothing), so he said, ” if you can hear me dip your wingtip” and they did so they walked or crawled for 6 hrs thru the heavy underbrush to find the clearing so the Boeing H-46 Sea Knight could get in and perform a rescue, and take them back to the base camp.
Falling 5,000 feet is the quickest recipe known for growing old in a hurry. Lt. Ted Soliday’s cool approach to a hairy situation gave him and Hall another chance at reaching their golden years- the normal way. by the way, Ted Soliday has the record for Getting shot down in a Cobra Attack Helicopter at 5,000 feet and walking away, much less surviving it. He also survived riding two other Cobras down.
Link to Descriptions
Ted Soliday had a distinguished career in the Marine Corps
Here is a list of the ribbons and commendations
Distinguished Flying Cross Medal with Gold Star for second award
Air Medal With Gold Star and number 35 for 35 awards
Commendation Medal with Gold “V” for Valor for distinguished action in combat
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with 3 Bronze Service Star for Denoted subsequent awards
Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation Medal enclosed in Gold Frame
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Medal with Bronze Palm enclosed in Gold Frame
Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation Medal with Bronze Palm enclosed in Gold Frame
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Silver Date Bar