Airborne Mist: A True Experience
by Robert L. Pollock
In early 1968, during the TET Offensive I was a Loadmaster on a C-130 cargo aircraft attached to the 834th Air division. My crew and I had departed Da Nang enroute to Camh Ranh Bay South Vietnam. The flight time was about 45 minutes, we were flying south just off the coast of Vietnam at twenty-five thousand feet altitude. The aircraft was pressurized and I was seated in the empty cargo compartment taking care of some final paperwork to be turned in when we landed at our destination. This was the last flight of a very long 20-hr day for us. I had the cargo compartment lights on bright white because we had no threat of enemy fire so I could complete the paperwork.
As I sat there I noticed movement at the rear of the boxcar sized empty cargo compartment. I looked and was stunned to see a whirling grey cloudy mass forming at the rear right troop door. The mass was whirling clockwise; it completely filled in the entire rear of the aircraft within seconds. It just hung there like a grey/black curtain. Well, I immediately thought that we had suddenly had a pressurization leak or some kind of high pressure fluid leak that was atomizing the fluid. I asked the engineer over the interphone system if he had any indications of any problem of any kind. He told me “no”. By this time the mist or fog or whatever it was had half the cargo compartment filled. In just a matter of no less than two or three minutes the entire cargo compartment was filled in; all the way to the forward bulkhead.
The engineer and navigator had joined me in the rear of the aircraft where all three of us just continued to back away from the mass as it advanced toward the front of the aircraft. The co-pilot then joined us at the forward crew door area just where the steps were that led into the cockpit. The pilot placed the aircraft in autopilot mode and also joined the rest of us. We could see this grey/black mass in front of us, we were all so amazed. The navigator said “this is spooky”. I remember looking at him almost in anger because I felt sure that whatever it was we were seeing was something to do with the aircraft itself and not something weird or strange.
The engineer went back to his panel to double check on any possible problem with the aircraft systems and found nothing out of the ordinary. I placed my hand into the mass and it just plain disappeared from sight. This stuff was very opaque. The engineer said “come on Load; let’s do a walk around of the cargo compartment”. I quickly agreed, and the two of us stepped into the opaque mass. As soon as I stepped into the mass the lights went out, we had to feel our way along the wall of the aircraft; we were absolutely blind inside that unknown mass. Well, we felt our way around for maybe fifteen minutes with the other three crewmen asking for constant updates as to our welfare.
We got back to the stairwell where the others were at and was at a total loss as to what to do to get rid of the mass filling our aircraft, if it had also filled the cockpit we would have been flying blind with no way to land safely. I have never figured out what that strange grey/black mass was. While I was fully encased inside the mass I had no trouble with my eyes burning as they should have been doing if it was some kind of fluid, it had no odor, and it did not interfere with our breathing either, as it should have, had it been a fluid problem. The only other explanation was that it could have been some kind of pressurization problem, which it was not because that was the very first thought I had and the very first thing the engineer had checked.
I did not feel any kind of threat from the mass except that if it had filled the entire aircraft, we would have been in very desperate trouble. So as we stood there trying to decide what it was and what to do about it, the mass began to go away the way it had appeared, only in reverse. When it got back to the place it had first started forming, it whirled counter-clockwise and then just disappeared into nothing. The five of us were totally dumbfounded about what we had just experienced. By now we were coming up on our destination so got down to the business of going through the pre-landing checklist.
None of us ever mentioned the incident again, even between each other. Why? I am not sure except to say that as seasoned combat crewmen I guess that we (I know, I) just figured that if we lived through it then we did not have to worry about it again. Now, it never really crossed my mind back then; that I would never be able to figure out what it was we had seen that night. But as the years have continued to pass without an answer, the incident has begun to spook me a bit. We all saw that ominous grey/black mass just hanging there in front of our eyes, but just what it could have been stumps me.
We could see it but not smell it, taste it, feel it and it did not irritate our eyes or lungs. So your guess is as good as mine as to what it was. Something that opaque should have had some kind of impact on our bodies, but it did not!