Date: 7 April 1967
Squadron: VA-35 Black Panthers, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65), Yankee Station
Aircraft: A-6A Intruder
Target: Night attack on the sprawling Thainguyen, North Vietnam, steel complex
Pilot: LCDR Everett "Hoot" Foote; Bombardier/Navigator: LT John Griffith
The flight proceeded as briefed to the coastal entry. Lieutenant Commander Foote used the A-6 Intruder's terrain-avoidance radar augmented by Lieutenant Griffith’s search-radar observations to establish their minimum terrain avoidance altitude under night instrument flight conditions. The low altitude at which they flew over the mountainous terrain greatly complicated the radar navigation challenge. Griffith never the less hit each checkpoint on time, inserting updated position data into his navigation and weapons system computer to ensure an accurate track.
Approaching Highway 1A east of Kep, the crew received indications of steadily tracking enemy fire-control radar, and at about six miles from the final checkpoint for target run-in, intense aimed antiaircraft fire began to detonate near the aircraft. Although maneuvering radically in an attempt to avoid the enemy ground fire, Foote maintained his close proximity to the terrain to avoid tracking surface-to-air-missile guidance radar. After about 90 seconds, the gunfire ceased and the crew continued toward the target, still under continuous tracking by enemy radar.
At 15 miles from the target, the crew received indications of a missile launched toward their aircraft. Lieutenant Commander Foote maintained an altitude of between 800 and 1,000 feet above the terrain. At about 12 miles from the target, Lieutenant Griffith lost radar view of the target and requested an immediate climb. Foote eased up to 1,500-feet, making a final heading correction to the target. Griffith reacquired the target and began tracking the center of it.
At eight miles from the target, intense antiaircraft fire illuminated the clouds ahead of the aircraft and shells began bursting around the Intruder. At six miles from the target, a surface-to-air missile detonated approximately 200 feet ahead and to the left of the aircraft, jarring the A-6 sufficiently to dislodge the red lens from a floodlight, flooding the cockpit with bright white light.
The crew continued the attack, and six seconds later a second missile detonated, shaking the aircraft violently and making five holes in the right wing and fuselage. Although aware that they had been hit and uncertain of the extent of damage, the crew pressed the attack into the intense barrage of flak over the target, maintaining a smooth, level flight path and steady target tracking until bomb release. As the bombs fell, Lieutenant Commander Foote executed a precise high-G recovery maneuver, retiring at minimum terrain avoidance altitude through the mountains. The crew again encountered heavy aimed fire as they retraced their route toward the coast but were able to evade the fire by hard maneuvering at low altitude.
The return to the carrier and recovery in IFR (instrument flight rules) weather were without incident. The aircraft sustained several holes from the enemy missiles, including a three-inch hole in the wing caused by shrapnel that barely missed the wing fuel tank. Bomb damage assessment confirmed an on-target release of 22 500-pound MK-82s on the target complex on or near the primary target, a steel complex’s blast furnaces.