I've been speaking with several people during the last few weeks about the C-5 crash and its rescue and as happens when 30 years goes by, things change.
I spoke with Air America pilot Izzy Freedman a few weeks ago. He lives in Thailand now and I caught him on his cell phone inside a "great Irish pub" in Bangkok.
Later, when he found a quieter place and a landline, we talked about that day in 1975 when the plane crashed.
Izzy was on the first chopper there, he said. He and several others were at the Saigon airport for a check ride with an FAA inspector when the radio traffic from the pilot came in. They heard of the crash and everyone immediately ran for the helicopters.
Now Izzy says he was first. Marius Burke, who I spoke with a few months ago, said he was first. I don't think there's a competition but it was kind of funny. I think mostly they all arrived together.
Now I spoke with another Air America guy last week, Phil Vaughn, who said he rode out with Izzy on that first trip. Izzy mentioned four other people but never Phil. Didn't remember him, apparently, although Phil said they rode together and knew each other.
I have no reason to doubt either one but it does present challenges for doing this book.
When they got there Phil jumped out into the swampy land, sinking up to his chest. The land was very uneven, pockets of water and soil here and there.
When I first started looking into the crash one of the tales I heard was of helicopters having to hover at ground level and people slogging through mud to get children into the helicopters.
Nope, never happened, pilot Bud Traynor told me. Just lore, he said.
Yet both Izzy and Phil said, yup, that's what happened. Sometimes they could land. Sometimes they had to hover right at ground level, but not actually touch down, because they didn't know what was under them.
All these guys are telling the truth as they see it. Like in the movie "Courage Under Fire," different perspectives create different truths.
What is uniform is that these guys are responded to an emergency without thought or concern, putting the safety of these people on board the plane first. No one asked them about it after, questioned them or thanked them.
Their tales are just an interesting part of this project. It's up to me to weave them together in an accurate representation of what happened.