Roping out was hazardous even without the enemy shooting at you and it was highlighted when, on one particular
extraction in September 1969 with Joe Van Droffelaar's patrol, Private Dave Fisher came off his rope. His body was never recovered
and he is today listed as one of the six Australians still missing in action from the Viet Nam War. Ian Stiles was a member
of the same patrol and recalled the extraction and the events surrounding it. It was Ian Stiles' belief that Fisher had hooked
up through the wrong loop on his rope and pulled the loop out and was unable to hold on:
What had happened, Dave Fisher had actually hung on to the two bits of rope, which
was enough tension to support his rope and as soon as he let go or moved his position or something, then bang, he fell away.
It was sort of a bit of disbelief. Wondering what had happened, whether he was still alive.
Private Fisher had fallen back down into the jungle and the patrol was unable to land and search for him.
Joe Van Droffelaar describes being unable to return to the actual extraction point while still airborne:
I think that was the toughest time. Toughest time because at the time I did not think
that there was any fault on anyone's behalf. We got ourselves onto the other LZ which was a bastard of a place, a bloody swamp
waist deep in water. Contact was made at the other end of the LZ. Heaps of firing going on, rain was thundering down and knowing
that I had just lost a man; knowing now that I was prepared now to rappel down by using those ropes - and they refused. The
simple fact was that there was an enemy force on the ground that was too large. It was a tough time.
When we finally got back on the Hill, Major Beesley was there with a standby patrol and gave them a quick
brief. The squadron didn't say too much, now did anyone else. Blokes knew that these sort of things ... can happen. After
the number of hot extractions that we had done, our luck maybe was finally running out.
Once the HQ back at Nui Dathad been alerted to the accident, Reg Beesley went out to the area with the standby
patrols to search. They actually rappeled into the area from the choppers. After an unsuccessful search by the SAS, a company
from one of the rifle battalions scoured the area for several days to no avail. Joe Van Droffelaar now had a patrol to look
after through a difficult time.
When the blokes finally got back into their lines, they went through their own personal grief, I suppose,
saying well you know we've lost a bloke. I don't know what the standby patrol was going to do under the command of Beesley
at that particular time and there was nothing that I could do. I basically ssort of hung back and had a couple of beers because
the debrief would not take place until the next day now, and so I had quite a number of hours that afternoon to reconcile
in my mind really what may have gone wrong, or what the likely cause of his coming off the rope was. The ropes were basically
in the process of being investigated. We were on the slick that had the ropes, so the ropes were taken back by the Q store
and taken up to the int section. I just decided to have a dhobi [shower].
And slowly the reports started to come back from the pilots and door gunner and they told what had occurred
there. The ops officer - he was starting to take notes and I finished my shower and was changing clothes and was told that
a debrief would be conducted the next day. So I picked myself up a feed and I told the blokes to have a feed and just hang
tight. I started feeling quite relaxed by then. It must have been the two cans per man per day. By now the sigs were saying
that contact was made on the insertion point as the standby patrol tried to get in. So I thought, well he's gone and just
get on with it.