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Frangos Korean Adventure

Although this happened 54 years ago, Mom/Nana thought
I should write about it because you might find it
interesting. True, even she hasnt known fully about this
incident until recently, had the outcome been just a little
different you wouldnt be fact you would never
have been born.

The event happened on the 16th of September 1958. To

me, it seems like yesterday in many ways. I was overseas
in Korea as an Army Officer serving with the 4th US Army
Missile Command. My principal duties were as Radio
Signal Officer in the 226th Signal Company. I had been in
Korea about 7 months on a 15 month assignment. So this
occurred close to half way through my tour of duty.

I was in charge of radio communications for the Missile

Command. Our mission was to supply the first installation
of atomic weapons capability for the UN/US forces
defending South Korea from attack from the North
Koreans and the Chinese. These were the first atomic
weapons of ours then located outside the US and the first
US ones ever overseas since two bombs had been dropped
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki bringing the end to WW II.

I had the Additional Duty of being Theater Officer for

the 2,800 troops stationed at Camp Page, Chunchon,
Korea. This was an important job and I liked it. In August

I had arranged to have our movies (the principal form of

entertainment for all of us) converted from 16mm film to
35mm film. This would improve the quality and selection
of movies we could show and, more importantly, result in
improved morale, something which was badly needed.
So in the afternoon of the day before the 16th, Captain Bob
White and I flew to Seoul Korea to pick up the three
projectors needed to make this conversion. We flew in a
Beaver L-20 #837 light aircraft made to carry 5
passengers. In the time I had been there, I flew
frequently, in either light planes like this one or
helicopters, to fulfill my duties since my troops and radio
sites were all over the place. So this was nothing new for
me. Bob was a friend and we had been there together
since March. He was from the south, older, married and
had children. I liked him a lot. The flight took about an

We landed at Kimpo K-14 Air Base near Seoul and after

parking the plane for the night went to dinner at the 8 th
Army Officers Club.a real treat. We slept at the 8th Army
BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters) which was a palace
compared to our very humble quarters in Chunchon.

In the morning, after breakfast, we headed to the Airfield.

Capt. White supervised the loading of the projectors onto
the plane.they were large, heavy and bulky. After I
signed the papers provided by the 8th Army Theater Officer
we were set to go. It was about 10 AM and the weather
was just perfect. It was a bright day with no clouds and
little wind.

As soon as we took off, Bob mentioned the plane didnt

feel right. He was absolutely correct that something was
wrong and after 3-5 minutes of flight we stopped gaining
altitude. He tried several things including having me use
my co-pilot controls.I used to fly often and in fact had
flown part of the way the previous day from luck, there was nothing wrong with the

Bob radioed the Kimpo tower May Day-May Day Im

going to make an EL (emergency landing) immediately.
All airfields had these emergency strips and Kimpos was
on the bank of the Han River about five miles from the
airport. Had we been higher, we had only gained 800 feet,
we could have returned to the airfield. Not possible in
these circumstances.

I had flown many emergency landing drills in various

planes and places, mainly around Chunchon. And
although my heart was pounding a mile a minute, I had
confidence that this would be OK. Bob was an expert and
experienced pilot and the Canadian built L-20 Beaver was
a reliable aircraft with a good record.

We came down the 800 ft. quickly and found the river
bank emergency landing strip. It was hard packed sand
and fairly smooth so the initial part of the landing was not
too different from some other non-paved landing strips.
We hit the beach at about 120 mph and slowed to about
100 mph. A Beaver has two wheels under the wings which

are forward on the plane and one under the tail in the
back. Everything was going well until the front two
wheels hit a water runoff ditch about 1-2 feet deep.

Then, suddenly and loudly, the plane flipped as it crashed

with loud noises and plane parts flying all over the place.
CRASH! BOOM! CRASH! BOOM! A wing broke off as did
part of the tail, and much of the 100 gals of aviation fuel
we had taken off with was everywhere as it leaked out of
the tanks onto the ground.

Then there was absolutely QUIET! I was dazed and

disoriented, since I was hanging upside down in my safety
harness. (I may have blacked out.) Here is what I recall
my thoughts were during the minute or so of the crash.
How much of this happened then, or was in my dreams
and thoughts about the crash that I had for a long time
after, I dont know.

I thought about the two loves of my life, my Mother and

Mom/Nana. How awful for my Mom if I died, she would be
devastated. And your Mom/Nana and I had been living on
dreams through the letters we wrote daily to each other
about our future life together while we were 12,000 miles
apart. How terrible for her if we never got a chance to
make those dreams come true. Then I saw the Stars and
Stripes, the Army newspaper with the headlines: Missile
Command officers Capt. Robert L White and Lt. Stephen J.
Frangos were killed when their plane crash landed on the
banks of the Han River Sept. 16, 1958.

And I watched my casket with the flag draped over it go

by with Taps playing. Only my Mom and your Mom/Nana
were at the funeral dressed in black and crying their eyes
out. I recalled how much my Mom cried when she had
learned about the death of her sister during WW II. It was
1945 and I was nine.she cried for days as I (and others)
told her it would be OK.she still couldnt stop.
And your Mom/Nana was there dressed in black and
looking her usual glamorous beautifulcrying
uncontrollably. When we parted at the Pittsburgh Airport
7 months earlier she cried as we said our goodbys and she
begged me to come back to her safely. I remembered how
I wouldnt wash my face for days where her tears landed
during our farewell tears.

Still in a daze, I wondered: where was the light and the

tunnel?? I had read that thats what happened when you
died.I felt very cheated. Who knows how much of this
went through my brain in the flash of the crash or if it
developed later. Well never know.

And of course, you know I didnt die, or you wouldnt be

here and I wouldnt be writing this to you.

I was brought back to life as Bob elbowed me and asked

if I was OK. I replied I thought so and asked how he
was? We were hanging upside down in our harnesses.
The wrecked plane was all around us and he said we had
to get out of it right away before it blew up. He was
turning all the power switches he could reach to help
prevent an explosion. As I released my harness, my head

hit the top of the plane which was now on the ground.
With the force of all my 165 pounds my head was
smashed. I had also cut my leg which was bleeding .and
now I had a huge lump on my noggin.

The doors had become jammed during the crash but I was
able to kick out my window and crawl out. Although Bob

managed to get out of his harness without hitting

his head (he told me later that he had received
training on how to do this during flight school) his
leg was injured so he couldnt kick his window out.
I stumbled around the wrecked plane (unable to
comprehend what I was seeing) to his door and
managed to somehow pull it open and then helped
him out.

We started to scramble away from the plane before

it caught fire and Bob yelled for me to grab the
chutes. We were supposed to fly with them on but
seldom did.a NONO punishable by Court Martial.
Later I wondered how stupid wasting valuable time
to get the chutes would have seemed if the blast
had blown us up.but then who would have
known. Wed be millions of little bits and so would
the chutes.

As we stumbled/crawled away with our parachutes

from the demolished plane, we heard the sounds of

the rescue helicopter approaching. Now thats

service! And thankfully NO fire!!

It was very quiet now except for the approaching

chopper, and the noise from mamasans, cleaning
their clothes by beating them with wooden
paddles, and the kids playing on the river bank.
Curiously, they had all apparently stopped to
watch the approach of the plane and come to a
smashing stop, then went back to their own lives.
I remember thinking that life goes on as it would
have if the result of our accident had been more

The rescue pilot made sure we were fairly OK then

ordered us into his chopper to fly immediately. He
said dont think just do it. It seems many NEVER
fly again after experiencing a crash and he wanted
to make sure we werent among those who didnt.

By the time we got back to Kimpo10 min or so

the full Disaster Medical Team was there. We got
sedatives and IV fluids. We were shaken, dizzy,
and disoriented but glad to be alive. They cut off
my pant leg.I was angry because it was my
favorite pair of fatiguesto get to my leg wound
and stop the bleeding. Bob got a splint for his leg

and they took X-Rays to see if anything was

broken. My head hurt but the Doc thought it was a
concussion and if I was lucky there wouldnt be any
serious brain damage. I told him I WAS lucky. Then
we rested.

Lt. Larry Gallagher was flying a plane from

Chunchon to take us back to Camp Page. Sgt.
Jones, my Theater Sgt, was coming with a truck to
retrieve the projectors. Amazingly they were
undamaged and worked perfectly. I was told that I
couldnt go back in the truck.I HAD to fly!

The accident investigation team was on the scene

and we answered dozens of questions. They took
lots of pictures, made measurements etc. Initial
assessment was that the 3 projectors, although
less than the weight of 3 people which the plane
was built for, probably caused the plane to

The final report, issued weeks later, found no

mechanical failures, no pilot error, no weather
problems, no incorrect procedures, and no
maintenance breakdowns. Cause of

Beaver #837 went to the airplane graveyard.

Fortunately, Bob and Steve lived to tell the story.

In my final 7-8 months in Korea, I continued to fly

as I performed my duties. I was involved in two
more accidents, helicopter crashes. Neither was as
serious as the one I just wrote about. Your
Mom/Nana used to say I was the safest person to
fly with since I had already had my share of
crashes, and more.

I returned to the States in April of 1959 and

Mom/Nana was there waiting for me looking as
beautiful as I had remembered hereven more so.
She was 21 yrs old and I was 23. We were married
in August when I left the Army and in the 53 years
since have fulfilled the many dreams we had
written about to each other during those many
lonely months we experienced while I was away.

You might also like to know that there were about

7-8 Beaver crashes while I was in Korea. About 3-4
of these flipped while making emergency landings.
Bob and I were the only ones who survived the

flipped wreckages. I credit luck and my guardian


And who knows, God may have some grand plans

for you.