On April 6th, 1975 a Boeing 747 carrying ninety-nine Vietnamese orphans, and chartered by the Daily Mail newspaper landed at Heathrow airport. During the final days of the Vietnam War as North Vietnamese troops approached Saigon a scramble occurred to evacuate over two-thousand children from orphanages in the city as President Ford believed the Vietcong would have no mercy for abandoned infants, especially those fathered by American soldiers.
The plane that landed in the UK was the only one of its kind to land on British soil and was organised by the Daily Mail’s editor, David English, who was inspired by the American operation. His efforts received huge criticism at the time, and his actions were condemned as a publicity stunt. The Red Cross said that inadequate provision has been made to care for the children here and help should have been given to them in their homeland. Sadly of the ninety-nine, three died in hospital soon after their arrival, fifty-one were eventually adopted and the rest, including some disabled children were placed in the care system.
In America the operation was a greater success and nearly all of the 2,204 children airlifted there were adopted within a few months, however sadly, one hundred and fifty orphans and twenty-eight adults lost their lives when an American transport plane made an emergency landing after a door blew out in the early stages of the operation. Publicity stunt or not, we’ll never really know how many lives the Daily Mail’s editor saved on this very day, back 1975.