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Kent Whitman

Captain (Ret.), USArmy

Sinop, Turkey

TUSLOG Detachment 4

12 Nov 1977 - 14 Oct 1978

2014 by Author

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I was the Facility Engineer at Sinop.  While there we lost a U-21* with 5 on board in the mountains.  I set up the TOC and established the search and recovery operations.  The FAA team investigating the accident wanted one of the engines to take a closer look at it.  I had the Turkish engineers build a sled for the engine and formed a team to go recover the engine.  The mountain was covered with much snow so it was a difficult task, but we did it.  Outside of losing the 5 people in the crash I enjoyed my tour in Sinop.  Made many friends.  Continue to be in contact with some of my Turkish friends today.  Have another close friend now who was there long before me.  He was in the Army Security Agency and flew intel flights.

(Hope to have an expanded "Story" from Captain Whitman in the future.  Also, maybe some photos.)

[*Beechcraft U-21 "Ute", a twin-turboprop aircraft.]

[Expanded Story from Kent Whitman.]

My memories of being stationed with TUSLOG Det 4 at Sinop, Turkey,
by (Roy) Kent Whitman (Whit), Retired CPT, Corps of Engineers, Ranger.

I was assigned to TUSLOG Det 4, Sinop Turkey in November 1977 serving there until October 1978.  I had been stationed with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY.  My wife and two young daughters stayed in Government Quarters at Fort Campbell while I went off to Sinop.  I was assigned as the Facility Engineer, taking over from Tim Coffee (I think).  The installation was shut down in what the Turks called limited operations.  We were not allowed to operate any of the intelligence equipment in full operations mode.

The Congress of the United States placed an embargo on support to Turkey as a result of the Turks using US weapons systems when they went into Cyprus in 1974.  The Turks, in turn, placed an operational embargo on all intelligence operations from installations in Turkey such as Sinop and TUSLOG Det 4.  We were not allowed to move a chair from one office to another without the Turkish Commander's permission in writing.  I suspect most of the readers here already know this so I will not expand it further, other than to say my job as Facility Engineer was as Contracting Officer for the US Army overseeing the Civilian Engineer firm, contracted to operate the facilities and keep it in a status quo state of repair.

Tim Coffee, my predecessor, had just about finished building a 5,000 foot concrete runway down at the airfield.  There was still a 2,300 foot PSP runway in operations.  Part of my job was to apply for, and get, the new runway approved and registered by the US Air Force.  The new runway, which appears to be operational according to Google Earth photos, was all complete with lights, etc.; however, the airfield did not have the necessary radar systems, so all flights in and out were all visual.  Keep in mind I am not an aviator and do not know the technical terms for all the instrument landing equipment that we did not have.

The Civilian Engineer firm and their Turkish employees were very good at what they did.  They worked very hard at keeping the facilities operational within the limits of the embargo.  Work during the week was generally very interesting and uneventful, with some exceptions I will get to later.

Off-time was spent playing basketball in the gym until I aggravated an old injury, and the Doc, CPT Patterson, stopped me from playing anymore and took me to an AF orthopedic surgeon in Ankara or Adana and I ended up having my right ankle reconstructed just before I went home on mid-tour leave.  After the operation and a few days in recovery in the AF Hospital, I returned to limited duty on crutches and tried to be normal and do my work; however, I was so juiced up on pain meds I was having trouble functioning.  My boss, LTC Richard Olson, the S4, told me to go to my quarters and stay there until I could function.  Later we had a good laugh over some of my actions while high on pain meds.

I was told I could bring a shotgun on the tour, so I packed my 16 gauge HR Topper, single barrel hammer shotgun, and some ammo to hunt birds and wild boar.  All the other hunters had big 12 gauge pump guns and laughed at my little single barrel 16 gauge, but the first time we went out for Russian Quail, out toward the Hippodrome, I bagged the first two that went up before anyone else could shoot.  Needless to say the others were impressed.  I hadn't told them that I was given that gun for Christmas when I was about 10 years old and had bagged many Pheasants and Grouse with it.  We would bag several each time out and then have a cookout at the barracks.

We did get a chance to go wild boar hunting with the Turks.  When the Turks saw my 16 gauge they were very inquisitive about the gauge, as they had never seen a 16 before.  Most of them had old Damascus (twisted steel, not bored) barrels in gauges 20 or 12.  I carried both buck shot and slugs for my gun.  We did not get a boar on that trip but had a fantastic time up into the mountains south of Sinop.  On our way out in the morning around 0400 hours, we would stop in town and get some fresh baked bread for the trip.  Boy was that good.  The Turks also told us to bring salt.  They would stop up in the mountains and pick mushrooms, "huge mushrooms", to eat.  A little salt made them delicious.

Another past time was fishing in the Black Sea.  One of the Turkish Firemen had a boat and took me out fishing for baby Atlantic-blue, or yellow-fin, Tuna.  I think they called them Palamoute, or something like that.  We would troll for them with long lines with feather flys as bait.  When we had a bunch hooked we would stop the boat and pull them in.  We then headed the boat to the sandy shore, built a fire, and cooked and ate them right there.  Fantastic memories!

During the cold windy winter much of our off-time was spent indoors, drinking (too much), shooting the bull, playing cards, watching movies at the theater, listening to music, reading in the Officers Club by the fireplace, and writing home - things like that.  One thing I did was to draw caricatures of some of the locals.  I did one of the dentist and one of the old American Fire Chief.  The dentist was Major Chris GEARY (sp?), who sold me a 55 pound pull bow he wanted to get rid of.  Nice Tooth Ferry!  A few years ago I ran Major GEARY.  He was living in, or near, Wilton, NH.  I have not seen him since.  I believe he was building a house there.

On 20 January 1978, the guys from the airfield came into our office (LTC Olsen and my office) to report that one of the aircraft, a U-21F with 5 passengers, was overdue from a return flight from Istanbul.  They had done all they could do to try and reach the aircraft by radio but had lost contact with them about 1630 hours as I recall.  They feared the worst that the aircraft had crashed in the mountains.  Being that the airfield had no radar or beacons, all inbound flights were visual.  Often, in the mountains flying was like flying inside a ping pong ball.  They were reporting to LTC Olsen, as he was also the Deputy Commander and was left in charge, as the Full Colonel Commander of the site was home in the States.  LTC Olsen asked me to establish a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and to organize a search and recovery operation.  We immediately asked the Turkish Commander for any assistance he could provide.  I quickly organized some ground search teams and outfitted them with what radios we had, and sent them out in vehicles looking in the direction that the aircraft would be coming from.  They were to stay in contact with us in the TOC and report anything they felt was important.  They searched all through the rest of that night but found nothing.  We had requested a helicopter from TUSLOG but were denied because of the poor visibility in the mountains; however, the next day the Turks provided us with a UH1 (Huey) and crew - now keep in mind the US had given or sold them the helicopter, but, in 1974/75, had stopped giving them any spare parts because of the Congressional embargo - so it was held together with bailing wire and duct tape (so to speak).  Those Turkish pilots were great.  They went out and flew in the sub-optimal weather to look for the downed (we suspected), or lost, aircraft.  While at the same time one of our ground crews got some information from some civilian Turks concerning a fire and crash way up in the mountains the day before and pointed in the direction where they saw it.

The team proceeded to try to get to the site, but it was so far off the roads it was not feasible.  We got word to the Turkish Huey crew and they finally found the crash site which was not accessible by ground.  We finally received the TUSLOG Huey and crew and used it to take Doc Patterson and some MPs for security out to the site.  They could only get to about 200 meters from the site.  That distance had to be traveled by foot in 10 or so feet deep of snow.  Doc Patterson confirmed that all on board were KIA and badly burned.  We got body bags and recovered the bodies, bringing them to the airfield.  We had arranged for a C130 Medevac to come out of Germany to take them to a hospital and morgue in Germany where Doc Patterson could match their dental records with the bodies.

The FAA investigation team arrived in a day or so and we took them to the site in the TUSLOG Huey.  After inspecting the crash site they determined that one of the twin turbo prop engines went in with full power and the other went in with no power.  That aircraft can fly on one engine; however, they crashed about 200 meters from going over the top of the mountain.  The FAA team requested we recover the engine that went in with no power.  LTC Olsen gave the mission to me.

I had the Turkish Engineers make a wooden sled that would hold the 900 pound or so engine.  I assembled a team of the biggest guys on the Hill at the time, got a 2 ton truck with a ton trailer and headed to the site.  I also had a D7 Bulldozer loaded onto a flatbed and took it with me.  We got as close by road as we could, unloaded the dozer and hooked up the trailer with sled in it, and started to walk the dozer up into the mountain.  It took us several hours to get there, but along the way we were met by civilians who assisted in directing us the way to go.  We were following old roads that went up into the mountains.  The Turkish people were very helpful and eager to do so.

When we arrived at the site I had the trailer unhooked from the dozer.  The men took the sled by hand and pulled it up to the engine we were to recover and got the engine loaded and tied down on the sled.  While this was happening I had the dozer operator build a ramp that we could back the trailer up to, so we could slide the sled with engine onto the trailer.  Well, on the way down from its resting place at the crash site, the sled and engine decided to take a path of its own and did not end up where we had built the ramp.  So I had to have the dozer operator make another ramp and we moved the trailer and dozer there and finally with a lot of grunting and groaning got the sled with engine in the trailer.  It took us several hours to get back down the mountain to the trucks waiting for us.  We swapped the trailer to the 2 ton truck and loaded the dozer on the flatbed.  We then cheered and headed back to the Hill.

This entire engine recovery operation took us a full 24 hours and we were all cold, wet, hungry, and tired.  The men on this operation were outstanding and performed with utmost professionalism.  I do not recall any of their names but they performed as a well-organized team and executed their mission flawlessly.  Nobody was injured during this difficult mission.  Keep in mind these were all clerical personnel or radio/computer operators, not Combat Engineers or Infantry troops.

Now let me get back to the C130 medevac bird.  I was down at the airfield when it arrived from Germany and spoke with the AC Commander.  He said they had no charts of the place except that it had a 2,300 foot PSP runway.  I responded in the affirmative.  Then he asked me what that long gray thing was that he could see from his cockpit.  I said it was a brand new 5,000 foot concrete runway all decked out with lights and painted.  He asked if he could land on it.  I said I thought he could if he wanted to.  He said it would have to be an emergency landing because his charts only indicated the 2,300 foot PSP runway.  I indicated that he should have no problem landing on it.  He landed and we loaded the bodies on board and CPT Patterson strapped in and again I spoke over the radio to the pilot.  This time he indicated that it would have to be an emergency takeoff because he had no charts of the new runway.  He taxied to the end of the runway and turned the C130 around and gave it full throttle with all the brakes on, then he let the brakes go and he was airborne in about 200 feet.

20 January 1978, U-21F crashes on a return flight from Istanbul with the following KIA:
CW3 James D. Thompson [Pilot]
MAJ Tommy R. Smith [Pilot]
PVT Walter J. Penchikowski [arriving new MP from Keene, NH]; (I had to write his parents)
MAJ Paul G. Schlude [??]
MAJ James R. Smith [Det 4, S3 Operations Officer]; (We were close as he was a Ranger too.)

Later we found out the FAA investigation found a small pin had failed in the engine, causing it to lose power and fail.  It was suspected that when it happened there was not time enough to react to continue to fly the aircraft on one engine and they lost altitude causing them to hit the mountain down 200 feet from the top.

Another major function I had was to keep enough water in our storage tank to allow us normal use of water.  The US had assisted the Turks in installing a pipeline from an aquifer several miles from Sinop.  The water would flow by gravity from the aquifer to cisterns the Turks built in the city.  Some water was then pumped from the cisterns up to the Hill, while the rest went to the city system.  On the Hill it was stored in a large water tank that was used to feed the water system on the compound.  When the incoming water from the aquifer was low in the dry summer season the Turks would go into the pump house and shut off or down the valves used for the water going to the Hill.  Tim Coffee had built a great visual gage with three colors on it.  When the tank was full (the top 1/3 of the tank) the gage pointed to green.  When it was in the middle third of the tank it pointed to yellow.  And when it was down to be bottom 1/3 of the tank it pointed to the red.  Everyone on the Hill watched that gage.  We had an SOP that provided directions as to what water could be used for depending on the gage color.  When it showed in the yellow I would go visit the Mayor in town and ask him to have his people open the valves so we could get more water.  This was a political endeavor.  Every time I did this he would want something in return, some cement, or other supplies that it was hard for him to obtain.  So it was a bartering situation.  When the gage showed red I would go into the pump house and open the valves myself.

I have since become close friends with Dave Swenson, who flew Intel flights in the area long before I was there and had been to Det 4 on the Hill.  He lives just a few houses from me here in Keene, NH.  He put me in contact with DOOL Diogenes Station Sinop Turkey where I found one of the Turkish Engineer Supervisors, Abdullah Eren.  Abdullah and I communicate via email and on Facebook.  Abdullah recalled seeing me at the crash site when we took the FAA investigators there.  He was assisting with the security of the site.

Shortly after I left the Hill things were settled between Turkey and the United States and I understand the Det went fully operational again.

I will always remember my tour at Sinop with fondness except for the plane crash and losing those friends.  All the men and women there were all great people and I am happy to have served with them.  We had lots of good times together.