While the crew was rushing to Action Stations, two more air-to-air missiles penetrated the starboard side and killed Chief Electrician Hunt and wounded several others – and narrowly missed a magazine. Hobart fired five rounds from a deckgun, but the swept-winged attacker escaped.
During the DMZ ‘lights’ operation, the guided-missile destroyer USS Edson, the guided-missile cruiser USS Boston, the US Coast Guard cutter Point Dume, and the USS PCF-19 also came under ‘friendly fire’ , but fortunately without causing more casualties.
Eventually, the Phantom pilots involved in the operation that night and early morning, were recalled and grounded.
After daybreak, US helicopters airlifted the wounded Australian sailors to Danang and the damaged Hobart went to Subic Bay, Philippines, for repairs and was off the scene for five weeks – and that night DMZ ‘lights’ returned.
Whatever the ‘lights’ actually were remains a subject of conjecture, but it appears they were sighted for some weeks and went unchallenged. A week after the Hobart ‘incident’ the 1996 I interviewed the Hobart’s skipper, the late Ken Shands, and he also said, “Neither before nor after the incident … was there any report by any of the ships of a helicopter being there [around Tiger Island]. Now having said that, the captain of one of the American ships told me later at Subic Bay that he thought there were helicopters there, but the fact is he didn’t report, and if he believed there was a helicopter … it was his duty to report it at the time, but there was no report.”
So what appeared over the DMZ that sparked the mission that saw Hobart hit?
The events of that night have doubtless raised much discussion – it was the RAN’s costliest day of the entire war – and Australian navy history books mention ‘unusual atmospheric conditions over the DMZ’, ‘insect swarms’ or ‘bird flocks’ as possible sources of the sightings, but were they unidentified flying objects?