|Senior Lieutenant Dinh Van Duong, the sole survivor of the Hoa Lac helicopter crash in 2014 (Photo: Ngoc Mai/VOV5)
“The years of training and flying with my comrades, all their looks, all their smiles…I will carry them with me for the rest of my life, Duong said.
Nine years after the tragic crash of his Mi-171 plane in the Hoa Lac airport area, Hanoi, Senior Lieutenant Dinh Van Duong, the sole survivor of the crash, still carries the burden of an inconsolable grief.
Every year as War Invalids and Martyrs Day, July 27, approaches, sharp memories flood Duong's mind, evoking a deep sense of loss that feels as fresh as if the crash occurred just yesterday.
Life is unpredictable, and on July 7, 2014, fate took an unexpected turn for those aboard that plane.
The Mi-171, one of the most technologically advanced military aircraft at that time, had played a crucial role in numerous critical missions, including the international search for the Malaysian MH-370 aircraft that disappeared. But Duong and his 20 comrades couldn’t have anticipated that that day would be their final mission, their final moments of shared laughter and companionship.
Duong said: “My comrades and I spent a lot of time together in the barracks, forging a connection that resembled a brotherhood. There are countless things I miss about them, but their smiles undoubtedly hold the most significance. It’s hard to believe that just a few moments before, we were chatting and laughing together, then the tragedy struck in the blink of an eye. It was truly a haunting moment.”
|Duong's medals awarded by the State. (Photo: Ngoc Mai/VOV5)
No matter how perilous the task, the 21 soldiers on board that day had never hesitated to risk their lives. Even in their final moments, the Mi-171’s pilot carefully steered the plane away from a nearby residential area to minimize the loss of lives and property.
“At that moment, our plane was navigating through the airspace between Binh Yen commune and Thach Hoa commune. I served as a paratrooper. My brother Long was the pilot in command. As I recollect the details of the incident, I realize how quickly everything unfolded. The accident occurred in mere seconds. Everything became suddenly urgent and chaotic, but Long kept his composure and made every effort to handle the situation optimally. His decisive actions averted what could have been a greater catastrophe,” said Senior Lieutenant Duong.
The tragedy claimed the lives of 20 soldiers from the 371st Airborne Division of the Vietnam People’s Air Force. Duong, the only survivor, sustained 99% disability. After spending 900 days in the hospital, undergoing 24 surgeries, surviving three cardiac arrests, losing both hands and both legs, and suffering a badly disfigured face, Duong’s spirit remained undiminished, allowing him to triumph over the physical pain in his body.
Duong’s mother, Ms. Trinh Thi Dong, 68, said through her tears that she struggled with his son for 29 months, as he underwent 24 surgeries. It was heartbreaking watching him fight to rebuild his life—learning how to sit, stand, and take his first steps with 2 prosthetic legs."
| Duong and his comrades, who dedicated their youth, ability, and bravery to safeguarding the nation, will live forever in the hearts of the Vietnamese people. (Photo: Ngoc Mai/VOV5)
Despite the difficulties he has been through, Duong’s primary focus is not his personal needs or even the well-being of his family, but ensuring a better final resting place for his comrades.
“My heartfelt wish is that my comrades will have a memorial house with personalized plaques in their honor. It doesn't need to be grand, just a well-kept place for people to come and offer incense to them regularly," Duong shared.
Experiencing life’s highs and lows leads individuals to a profound realization of their own significance, Duong said, with a gentle, warm, positive spirit shining in his eyes.
"I’m content with my current life, despite my deteriorating health. I take solace in being able to watch my children grow up and find happiness in their own lives," he said.
Wherever there are challenges, the army stands ready to meet them. Wherever there are hazards, the army will provide protection. The crash in Hoa Lac is in the past, and everyone must move on. But Duong and his comrades, who dedicated their youth, ability, and bravery to safeguarding the nation, will live forever in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.