LAKE CHEROKEE, TX (KLTV) - When it comes to "mission impossible", Tom Cruise and the movies have nothing on Ed Holley. His feat of dodging deadly SAM missiles over Laos has made him a legend in the Air Force.
"We got down to 1,500 feet [and] leveled it out," said Holley.
He already had a reputation for skillfully landing his plane in the whiteouts of Alaska when he was sent to Vietnam in 1971.
"They sent me from the cold north to the triple Canape jungle overnight," he said.
Holley's missions were to destroy the supply line feeding the Vietcong from Laos and Cambodia. It was on a March 2nd, 1971 mission over Laos that a SAM, surface-to-air, missile was launched at Holley's plane. Now a SAM is a deadly Russian missile that wasn't even supposed to be in the area, and Holley's lumbering Spectre gun ship had little chance to outmaneuver it.
"The missile's traveling at 12, 11, 1200 miles an hour and I am traveling at 150 miles so that's not a very good match," he said. "So, the only chance I had was to get underneath the radar guidance."
Holley had only seconds to react.
"I went from 8,500 feet to about 1,500 in about a minute," he said. "[I went] straight down in the middle of the night."
The plane's position had thrown the instruments off and the night was pitch black with no moonlight for visual guidance. The least outcropping from the ground would have finished the plane off.
"One missile went on either side of the plane," he said.
Holley's plane had beat the 99 or 9/10 percent chance of being obliterated by the SAM. In unison the crew breathed a sigh of relief.
"When we climbed up and shook the dust off, you know, the airplane was flying good and there were still a lot of targets," Holley said. "So, I said, 'Well, we might as well shoot some more targets.'"
Looking back, Holley wonders at his decision.
"Now, whether it was stupidity or whether it was, I don't know, it was just instinct, the targets are there," he said. "Go shoot them."
The targets were still there, but so was the SAM missile launcher, and once again the missiles closed in for the kill. Could Holley and his 13 man crew once again do the impossible?
"You only have one shot at it, and of course I had two that night but you do the best you can. I knew the capabilities of the airplane, the capabilities of the missile, the capabilities of the crew and so I went through the maneuver the only way I knew to do it."
There had been no training for such a maneuver, but ironically the "always prepared" Holley had played the "what if" scenario in his mind before the flight and that had helped him beat the odds.
"Intelligence did not believe us until we brought them some tapes and they finally believed us," said Holley.
Ed Holley served our country in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years. During that time there were many close calls, but none quite so exciting as the night he accomplished the impossible...twice.
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