Remembering Terry Hayes DFC

I was saddened to hear of the passing this week of Terry Hayes DFC, formerly of the Australian Army Aviation Corps. A decorated helicopter pilot from the Vietnam conflict, Terry’s efforts in 1972 are largely unknown.

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A RAAF Caribou aircraft carrying three crew and 26 passengers had disappeared whilst flying between Lae and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea on the afternoon of 28 August 1972. A search operation was started late that afternoon involving a range of RAAF, Army and civilian aircraft.

Lieutenant Terry Hayes from the  Army’s Lae-based 183rd Reconnaissance Flight had been involved, flying a Sioux helicopter, in the search for the missing Caribou since the morning of 29 August 1972. Hayes had previously flown Sioux helicopters in Vietnam and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for safely landing after his helicopter had been shot down in November 1970.

On 31 August 1972 he was flying Army Sioux A1-640 and had taken off from Wau in Morobe province at 1.36pm to search the local area. After searching the area allotted to him, he had some fuel remaining and decided to do another search of the Korpera River valley area south of Wau. The Army aviators had been unhappy with the level of effort given to searching the Korpera River valley and Kudjeru Gap areas earlier in the week and decided to do a further search of the area.

The search was a slow process and conducted at a relatively low height above the jungle canopy. Hayes later recalled:

I was working my way down the river valley on the southern side of the gap.The gap is around 9,500 ft, and I was down to tree top level at about 8,000 ft, circling over the canopy using rotor wash to blow away the trees in order to see the ground, well below. 

At around 3.00pm that day Hayes spotted smoke near the banks of the Korpera River about 33 kilometres south-southwest of Wau. The smoke caught his attention and he flew closer to investigate, spotting two people. He later recalled:

The jungle canopy covered the terrain as far as the eye could see, with no breaks at all, never mind places to land. The first thing I saw was smoke drifting through the treetops, and on moving to that area, saw two boys in jungle green shorts and shirts, waving frantically.

One of the survivors, Patrick Gau, later recalled that Terry Hayes waved from his helicopter and threw red and yellow powder onto the foliage near where they were standing.

Unable to land because of the jungle and without any ability to rescue the boys, he radioed for support, and two Army Pilatus flew to the area. Hayes recalled that the first Porter probably arrived within fifteen minutes.  It then circled above Hayes’ Sioux helicopter to relay radio messages as the Sioux’s VHF radio was not effective in mountainous terrain.  The Porter relayed a message to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre:

A703 SIGHTING IN MIDDLE OF KUDGEROO OF SQ H TWO YOUNG FELLOWS IN ARMY ISSUE SHORTS ONE WAVING A RED FLAG AND ONE A BLUE SHIRT.

Another Pilatus Porter aircraft went in search of the RAAF Iroquois helicopters which were also involved in the search, as he had been unable to make radio contact with them. The Iroquois helicopters were each fitted with a winch and carried a crewman and were the only option available to rescue the survivors. The RAAF Iroquois subsequently arrived in the area and winched the survivors to safety. They were then able to guide the searchers to the Caribou crash site several kilometres away near a mountain ridge.

Hayes’ decision to persist in the search for the missing Caribou was undoubtedly the single factor that saw the survivors rescued and the crash site located.

The two RAAF Iroquois commanders were subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) for their work in the rescue and recovery effort and several Army personnel were made Members of the Order of Australia (AM) for work in the rescue and recovery at the crash site. The contribution of Terry Hayes was largely forgotten.