Thanks to Edward Tipshus for telling us of this American hero.
At about 1040 hours on 14 November 1967, Captain Milton George Kelsey – Pilot, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Anthony Carter – Co-Pilot, Corporal Ronald Joseph Phelps – Crew Chief, lifted off from VMO-3s mat at Phu Bai in BUNO 153757, designated SCARFACE 1-0. At 1145, they picked up Major General Bruno Arthur Hochmuth Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division, his military aide-de-camp Major Robert Andrew Crabtree, and liaison Major Nguyen Ngoc Chuong, to visit ARVN Brigadier General Ngo Quang Truong in Hue.
The aircraft departed the hospital pad at Hue Citadel at 1145, enroute to Dong Ha and was chased by an HMM-364 UH-34, piloted by Captain J. A. Chauncey.
At 1150 the aircraft was flying northwest over Highway 1 at about 1500 feet. At YD672266, Captain Chauncey saw the aircraft's nose yaw to the right twice and at the same instant the aft engine section exploded in an orange fireball.
The fuselage separated from the rotor and the aircraft fell in pieces. The fuselage landed inverted in a flooded rice paddy; the tail cone a short distance away.
A Sparrowhawk was immediately dispatched, as well as an aircraft recovery team from VMO-3.
Burning fuel on the surface of the rice paddy hampered recovery, however, there was no evidence of explosion in the fuselage.
The bodies were returned to Phu Bai and pronounced by Lieutenant John Parrish; all are believed to have been killed on impact.
Immediately after the crash, and in the years since, a great many rumors circulated concerning the cause, ranging from enemy ground fire, to ARVN artillery fire, to United States friendly fire, and even sabotage.
Major General Hochmuth was the first and only Marine Corps general officer to die in Vietnam, and there was a great deal of pressure to list his death as combat related. Moreover, this was VMO-3s largest loss of life in Vietnam and it was difficult to accept that these flyers could have died in anything but combat.
In fact, the aircraft suffered a tail rotor gear box failure and the official findings on the incident, submitted by Brigadier General Robert Keller in November 1967, stated, ” there is no evidence to indicate this mishap was caused either by hostile action or inadvertent friendly fire.”
Full Name: ROBERT ANDREW CRABTREE
Date of Birth: 11/10/1934
Date of Casualty: 11/14/1967
Home of Record: PORTSMOUTH, VIRGINIA
Branch of Service: MARINE CORPS
Casualty Country: SOUTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: THUA THIEN
CRABTREE, ROBERT ANDREWMAJOR US MARINE CORPS
DATE OF BIRTH: 11/12/1934
DATE OF DEATH: 11/14/1967
BURIED AT: SECTION 6 SITE 9275-K
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Reviewed by: Michael Howard