Operation Babylift

Operation Babylift

Operation Babylift was the name given to the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries (including Australia, France, and Canada) at the end of the Vietnam War (see also the Fall of Saigon), from April 3–26, 1975. By the final American flight out of South Vietnam, over 3,300 infants and children had been evacuated, although the actual number has been variously reported.[1][2][3][4] Along with Operation New Life, over 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of children were airlifted from Vietnam and adopted by families around the world.



The end of the Vietnam War precipitated increased adoptions of Vietnamese children by American families. In April 1975, two years after the Americans signed a cease-fire accord with Vietnam, North Vietnamese troops spread through the South. The war's end caused hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee the country, fearing for their lives.

With the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang having fallen in March, and with Saigon under attack and being shelled, on April 3, 1975, U.S. President Gerald Ford announced that the U.S. government would begin evacuating orphans from Saigon on a series of 30 planned flights aboard C-5A Galaxy cargo aircraft.

Service organizations including Holt, Friends of Children of Viet Nam (FCVN), Friends For All Children (FFAC), Catholic Relief Service, International Social Services, International Orphans and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation petitioned the government to help evacuate the various orphans in their facilities in Vietnam. In their book, Silence Broken, Childhelp (International Orphans at the time) founders Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson chronicle their request from Lieutenant General Lewis William Walt to help with evacuations and finding homes for the Asian-American orphans.

Flights continued until artillery attacks by North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong military units on Tan Son Nhut Airport rendered airplane flights impossible.

The operation was controversial because not all children on the flights were bona fide orphans, although many were earmarked for adoption and just waiting for paperwork to come through before the operation began. Documentation was often sketchy or inaccurate. In a few cases, birth parents or other relatives who later immigrated to the United States from Vietnam requested custody of children already placed. The hasty evacuation in the final days of the war also led to debate over whether the rescue operations were in the best interest of the children.

Plane crash

A C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 flew the initial mission of Operation Babylift to bring Vietnamese orphans to the US in the few remaining days before the Republic of Vietnam fell. The C-5 departed Saigon-Tan Son Nhat Airport shortly after 4 p.m. on April 4, 1975. Twelve minutes after takeoff, there was what seemed to be an explosion as the lower rear fuselage was torn apart. The locks of the rear loading ramp had failed, causing the door to open and separate. A rapid decompression occurred. Control and trim cables to the rudder and elevators were severed, leaving only one aileron and wing spoilers operating. Two of the four hydraulic systems were out. The crew wrestled at the controls, managing to keep control of the plane with changes in power settings by using the one working aileron and wing spoilers.The crew descended to an altitude of 4,000 feet on a heading of 310 degrees in preparation for landing on Tan Son Nhut's runway 25L. About halfway through a turn to final approach, the rate of descent increased rapidly. Seeing they couldn't make the runway, full power was applied to bring the nose up. The C-5 touched down in a rice paddy. Skidding for a quarter of a mile, the aircraft again became airborne for a half mile before hitting a dike and breaking into four parts, some of which caught fire. According to DIA figures, 138 people were killed in the crash, including 78 children and 35 Defense Attaché Office Saigon personnel.[5]

When American businessman Robert Macauley learned that it would take more than a week to evacuate the surviving orphans due to the lack of military transport planes, he chartered a Boeing 747 from Pan American World Airways and arranged for 300 orphaned children to leave the country, paying for the trip by mortgaging his house.[6]


  1. ^ Martin, Allison, The Legacy of Operation Babylift, Adoption Today journal, Volume 2, Number 4 March 2000. "On April 3rd, a combination of private and military transport planes began to fly more children out of Vietnam as part of the operation. Numbers vary, but it appears that at least 2,000 children were flown to the United States and approximately 1,300 children were flown to Canada, Europe and Australia."
  2. ^ "People & Events: Operation Babylift (1975)", PBS, American Experience. "During the final days of the Vietnam War, the U.S. government began boarding Vietnamese children onto military transport planes bound for adoption by American, Canadian, European and Australian families. Over the next several weeks, Operation Babylift brought more than 3300 children out of Vietnam."
  3. ^ Operation Babylift, PBS, "Precious Cargo" documentary. "At least 2,700 children were flown to the United States and approximately 1,300 children were flown to Canada, Europe and Australia. Service organizations such as Holt International Children's Services, Friends of Children of Viet Nam and Catholic Relief Service coordinated the flights."
  4. ^ United States Agency for International Development, Operation Babylift Report (Emergency Movement of Vietnamese and Cambodian Orphans for Intercountry Adoption, April - June 1975), Washington, DC, pp. 1-2, 5, 6, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14. "Orphans Processed: Information obtained from the adoption agencies or processing centers indicates that a total of 2,547 orphans were processed under Operation Babylift. Of this total, 602 went on to other countries, leaving a total of 1,945 in the United States."
  5. ^ Defense Intelligence Agency: Remembering the First Operation Babylift Flight, http://www.dia.mil/history/features/operation-babylift/, last updated August 5, 2011.
  6. ^ Grimes, William. "Robert Macauley, Founder of Humanitarian Aid Group, Dies at 87", The New York Times, December 29, 2010. Accessed December 30, 2010.

Further reading

Media references

  • Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam is an award-winning documentary released in 2009 about the adoptees and volunteers as they examine their lives and the effects of this historic mission on their lives nearly 35 years later. - www.TheBabylift.com
  • Daughter from Đà Nẵng is a 2002 award-winning documentary film about an Amerasian woman who returns to visit her biological family in Đà Nẵng, Vietnam after 22 years of separation and living in the United States, having been taken out of Vietnam as a child in Operation Babylift.
  • Precious Cargo - a 2001 documentary film on Operation Babylift and the return of eight adoptees twenty five years later

See also

External links

Coordinates: 10°50′38″N 106°42′07″E / 10.8439°N 106.702°E / 10.8439; 106.702

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