North Vietnamese capture of Da Nang Air Base
See also: Ho Chi Minh Campaign
With the capture of Ban Me Thuot and the Central Highlands by North Vietnamese forces in late March 1975, the disastrous retreat by the ARVN had a profound effect on the South Vietnamese troops and civilians around Huế, Quang Tri, and Trek Da Nang.
Conflicting orders from Saigon caused confusion, lowered morale, and led to troop movements which defied any logic. As rockets and artillery fire began to hit Da Nang Air Base on March 28, the 1st Air Division was ordered to evacuate. Those ARVN soldiers who did not desert to assist their fleeing families, but instead chose to stand and fight, were overrun.
The troops who somehow managed to escape capture then joined the crazed mob attempting to leave Da Nang on anything that floated. Chaos ruled the streets of Da Nang Easter weekend 1975 as military deserters armed with their combat weapons attempted to dictate the terms of their departure. Before the weekend ended some of the most disciplined members of the armed forces would use their weapons against their countrymen in order to gain passage from Da Nang.
At the Da Nang airport, a Boeing 727, against the advice of many pilots, landed on 29 March in an attempt to evacuate some civilians, and was met by about 300 South Vietnamese soldiers, armed with rifles and grenades, who forced their way aboard the jet. Other people, seeking to flee the beleaguered city, lay in front of and under the airplane to keep it from leaving. The transport, operated by World Airways, was mobbed by soldiers as it taxied off the runway to the ramp. At least one soldier was seen firing his pistol at the cockpit. The jet finally took off. To avoid destruction, it took off from the taxiway rather than from the runway; the pilots found the runway jammed with people.
A big part of one wing-flap was damaged when it reached Saigon. The pilots said after landing that the damage had been done by a grenade. Aviation authorities, however, said it appeared that the damage was due to an obstacle in the path of the airplane’s wheels, not to an explosion. The pilots said they knew of no deaths resulting from this. But aviation experts said after talking to passengers and stowaways on the airplane that between 20 and 30 persons had probably been killed—some run over on take-off, some dropping away from the wheel wells and the cargo hold. The aviation authorities said the body of one soldier had been found in a wheel well on arrival at Saigon; others on the flight said that unknown numbers of others had dropped off the airplane in flight. It was the last western aircraft to leave Da Nang Airport prior to the seizure of the airport by Communist forces.
By March 30 one of the largest cities in South Vietnam and its huge airfield were under communist control. Approximately 130 South Vietnamese military aircraft managed to evacuate but over 180 were left behind along with huge stocks of fuel and ordnance. Abandoned by the South Vietnamese Air Force were thirty-three new Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ground attack aircraft; F-5 Tiger II fighter-bombers; Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters of several configurations, and other aircraft, most of which were captured intact by the Communist Forces.
Coming so soon after the loss of Kontum and Pleiku, the fall of Da Nang caused widespread panic and desertion within the South Vietnamese armed forces. The North Vietnamese, sensing that victory was theirs, deployed their reserves and immediately began pushing south along the coast in what was known as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign, the final push toward Saigon.