ACCOUNT OF THE INCIDENT INVOLVING LCPL GILLESPIE
*"While the future of the MATTs was in doubt, tragedy befell the Team when four people died, Corporal T .D.
Blackhurst, AATTV , Lance Corporal J .F .Gillespie, 8th Australian Field Ambulance, Captain Albertson, US Army, artillery
observer and adviser, and a South Vietnamese soldier of 302nd RF Battalion. 'Blacky' Blackhurst was the only corporal of AATTV
and only MATTs member killed in action. On 17 April 1971, as a member of MATT 3, Blackhurst was attached to a fifty-man company
patrol of 302nd RF Battalion during Dong Khoi operations. The aim of the patrol was to assist in the clearance of the enemy
from his haven in the deep crevices and caves of the densely timbered, boulder-strewn Long Hai mountains in southern Phuoc
Tuy province. Few Australian or government forces had ever emerged from this area without loss.*
*Blackhurst competently organized the wounded and directed the pilot. Rescue equipment
was lowered under Blackhurst's supervision and the crew began winching the first casualty aboard. The Vietnamese soldier was
dangling in mid-air when a machine-gun suddenly commenced firing from outside the perimeter, hitting the helicopter and killing
Lance Corporal Gillespie, the medical NCO on board. The helicopter crashed to the ground and exploded in flames engulfing
Blackhurst, Albertson, and the wounded man on the winch. The crew, injured and shocked, managed to escape.*
3.20 p.m. the company was at a high point deep in the mountain complex when a Vietnamese soldier stood on a mine which detonated
and caused four casualties. Blackhurst and Albertson went forward to help the wounded. The corporal radioed his team leader,
Warrant Officer 2 B.L. Maher, that it would be easier to arrange a helicopter evacuation on the spot rather than try to move
the casualties to more open ground. Standing patrols were placed around the area and a RAAF helicopter with accompanying gunships,
unable to land because of the boulders, was soon hovering over the position at tree-top level.*
were evacuated the same night, but the intense heat prevented recovery of the bodies around the helicopter until the following
day. The remains of Lance Corporal Gillespie, cremated within the molten mass of the machine, were not found."*
(Extract from Ian McNeill, "The Team", AWM, 1984 used under the principle of fair dealing pending approval
OVERVIEW OF THE GILLESPIE INCIDENT: 17 APRIL 1971
During Operation Dong Khoi III, on 17 April 1971, 3170244 Lance Corporal John Francis Gillespie was on board
a UH-1H helicopter A2 - 767 of 9 Squadron RAAF carrying out a DUSTOFF mission in the Long Hai Hills, Phuoc Tuy Province. At
about 4:20 p.m. the crew were in the process of winching a wounded ARVN soldier of the 2nd Company of 302nd RF Battalion up
into the hovering helicopter when it was shot down, catching on fire and crashing onto it's starboard side.
who were on the ground under the helicopter, as well as the wounded ARVN soldier who was being evacuated, were killed on the
spot. Gillespie was pinned under the wreckage. The crew were unable to extract Gillespie from the burning helicopter. The
body of the ARVN soldier was able to be recovered later in the day but the bodies of the other two men, and Gillespie, could
not be reached that evening due to the intense heat from the burning wreckage.
The next day the bodies of the two
men killed outside the helicopter were recovered but the heat from the wreckage was still so intense that the recovery party
could not approach closer than to within four feet of the aircraft. The body of Gillespie was not recovered that day and available
evidence indicates that allied forces did not subsequently visit the crash site.
JCRC REF NO 1740-0-01
References: A. Map, Vietnam, Series L7014, 6429 I, 1: 50,000; B. Defence Instruction (General) PERS 20-4;
C. AWM 98, R78/1/35, Appendix 2 to Annex E to AATTV Report for the Month of April 1971.
Gillespie is officially listed as KIA, body not recovered.