Operation Frequent Wind was the evacuation by helicopter of American civilians and "at-risk" Vietnamese from Saigon, South Vietnam, on 29–30 April 1975 during the last days of the Vietnam War. More than 7,000 people were evacuated from various points in Saigon, and the airlift left a number of enduring images.
Preparations for the airlift already existed as a standard procedure for American embassies. In the beginning of March, fixed-wing aircraft began evacuating civilians through neighboring countries. By mid-April, contingency plans were in place and preparations were underway for a possible helicopter evacuation. As the imminent collapse of Saigon became evident, Task Force 76 was assembled off the coast near Vung Tau to support a helicopter evacuation and provide air support if required. Air support was not needed as the North Vietnamese recognized that interfering with the evacuation could provoke a strong reaction from US forces.
On 28 April, Tan Son Nhut Air Base came under artillery fire and attack from Vietnamese People's Air Force aircraft. The fixed-wing evacuation was terminated and Operation Frequent Wind commenced.
The evacuation was to take place primarily from Defense Attaché Office compound and began around two in the afternoon on 29 April and was completed that night with only limited small arms damage to the helicopters. The U.S. Embassy in Saigon was intended to only be a secondary evacuation point for Embassy staff, but it was soon overwhelmed with evacuees and desperate South Vietnamese. The evacuation of the Embassy was completed at 07:53 on 30 April, but some 400 third country nationals were left behind.
With the collapse of South Vietnam, an unknown number of VNAF helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft flew out to the evacuation fleet. Helicopters began to clog ship decks and eventually some were pushed overboard to allow others to land. Pilots of other helicopters were told to drop off their passengers and then take off and ditch in the sea, from where they would be rescued.
During the fixed-wing evacuation 50,493 people (including 2,678 Vietnamese orphans) were evacuated from Tan Son Nhut. In Operation Frequent Wind a total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese or third country nationals were evacuated by helicopter.
Read more about Operation Frequent Wind: Planning, Preparations On The Ground, Options 1 and 2 – Fixed-wing Evacuation, Task Force 76, Tan Son Nhut Under Attack, Option 4 – White Christmas in April, Security and Air Support, Air America, The DAO Compound, The Embassy, Chaos At Sea, Results of The Evacuation, Casualties, Memorials, The Photo, In Popular Culture
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