A group of former Vietnamese ‘boat people’ were recently reunited with the Navy aircraft that took part in their rescue almost 40 years ago.

The HMAS Melbourne-based Grumman Tracker S-2G 851 is now an exhibit at the HARS Aviation Museum at Albion Park, NSW.

Flown by the late Sub Lieutenant Dave Marshall with observer Lieutenant Steve Langlands and Leading Seaman George Casey, it was on its final mission on June 21, 1981, when flames were spotted three miles away.

The flames were a signal from the disabled vessel Nghia Hung, containing 99 Vietnamese refugees aged from seven months to 65 years, en route from Vietnam to Singapore.

The River-class destroyer escort HMAS Torrens, which was also in the area, was making its way at speed to Nghia Hung.

Two hours later, all 99 people, officially designated MG-99, (Melbourne Group 99), were safely aboard Melbourne and being well cared for by her ship’s company.

Of those 99, 77 elected to settle in Australia.

Stephen Nguyen, who was 20 at the time of his rescue, has kept many of the group in touch and organised regular get-togethers.

He said seeing Tracker 851 at HARS after 40 years was a blessing. 

“It’s like meeting an old friend, a brave bloke who rescued me from a tragic accident,” he said. 

“I have feelings of owing him a lot. To the MG-99, Tracker 851 is an unforgettable memoir along with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Torrens, the destroyer, and of course the crew.”

Read the full story in Navy News on pages 18-19.