1975 Saigon Embassy Roof Photographer Dies at 67

May 15, 2009, Hugh Van Es, a Dutch photojournalist who covered the Vietnam War for the United Press International (UPI), died in Hong Kong. His image of American officials and their families attempting to escape Saigon via a rooftop helicopter became a metaphor for the failure of U.S. policy in the region and the panicked withdrawal from Vietnam.

The evacuation of Saigon - Hugh Van Es / Bettmann.

A CIA employee helps Vietnamese evacuees onto an Air America helicopter from the top of a building in Saigon, South Vietnam on April 29,1975. As North Vietnamese forces neared the city, American military and civilians with their families struggled to escape. From his vantage point several blocks away atop the UPI offices, and using a 300mm lens, Van Es photographed a UH-1 Huey, owned by Air America, the CIA-run airline, loading frightened and desperate people. Clearly not all of those on the roof would make it aboard. The photo brought Van Es fame but he was frustrated by the widely held assumption that the photo showed the US Embassy building, when in fact it was a private apartment building housing CIA officials and their families.

Feb. 1969 AP file photo, Dutch photographer Hugh Van Es.

The image gained even more iconic status after the musical Miss Saigon featured the scene of Americans evacuating from the Embassy roof by helicopter. Van Es was upset about the play's use of the image that he so famously captured, and believed he was being ripped off. He had long considered legal action but in the end decided against it. Born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, Hugh Van Es said he decided to become a photographer after going to a photo exhibit at a local museum when he was 13 years old. He is survived by his wife and sister in Holland.

Hubert van Es in Hong Kong Aug. 2008 - Bob Carroll.

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Filed under: Photo Extras June 20, 2009
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