US helicopter crashes From correspondents in Kabul December 17, 2004
A US army helicopter crashed in western Afghanistan today after suffering apparent mechanical failure, injuring both pilots on board, the US military said in a statement.
"A United States Army OH-58 helicopter crashed today in Afghanistan just north of Shindand in Herat Province. The crash site was secured immediately and there were no enemy forces reported in the area," the statement said.
"This crash was not the result of any hostile action, and, according to the pilots, there was no fire reported from the ground," it said.
Both pilots on board were evacuated to a US medical facility for treatment although their injuries were not life threatening.
An investigation will be conducted to confirm the cause of the crash, the military said.
By Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson Special to The Capital-Journal
SHINDAND, Afghanistan -- A helicopter crashed Dec. 16 just north of the Shindand Airfield in western Afghanistan. One pilot climbed free, yet the other was pinned amid mangled wreckage. Only a few minutes later, troops arrived and began the rescue operation.
"It didn't look like a helicopter crash. It looked like the rest of the Soviet rubble littered around the air strip," said Capt. Mike Anderson, flight surgeon for Task Force Saber, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
Troops at Shindand Airfield charged into action the morning the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter plunged to the desert floor four kilometers from the airfield tower.
Pilots in the sister aircraft radioed in the crash information. Meanwhile, the flight operations soldiers in the tower saw the dust and smoke from the crash site. The medics leaped into action as they heard the clamor on the radio.
A team of first responders bolted to their vehicles, rushing to secure the site and care for the pilots. The medics, base operations soldiers, communications team, the fire department and the Downed Aircraft Recovery Team arrived soon after the crash. Two other Kiowa scouts, returning from another mission, arrived and provided initial site security. The operations staff followed a pre-accident plan, coordinating the dispatch of the appropriate resources to the crash site in a timely manner.
Sgt. 1st Class Joe Belew, the Task Force Saber communications chief, looked out the window of his communications shop that morning to see a fire engine racing down the road. Knowing something was amiss, he went outside and saw a pilot running toward the aid station. He and his supervisor, Capt. James Jackson, the TF signal officer, headed toward the crash site in their Humvee.
At the time of the crash, Master Sgt. Duane Detweiler, the base operations noncommissioned officer in charge, was at the northern end of the airfield taking a break from improving the force protection fence line.
"I noticed a Kiowa Warrior execute a hard bank, and I knew something was up, Detweiler said. "I looked to the northeast and saw a huge cloud of dust."
He and his partner, Staff Sgt. Michael Alexander, drove to the downed helicopter.
The wingman to the downed bird, another Kiowa scout helicopter, landed near the crash site and the pilots, 1st Lt. Angie Zugay and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian Brummell, were on the scene when Detweiler, Alexander, Jackson and Belew arrived. One downed pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Scot Cowie -- injured yet already clear of the wreckage -- had attempted to lift the helicopter, which pinned his copilot's arm, to no avail.
When Belew, Detweiler and the others converged on the site, they first saw the sister ship, blades at a standstill, about 100 feet from some rubble that looked like a pile of dirty scrap metal. Zugay stood up in the midst of the rubble waving her hands.
"That's when we knew (that the rubble) was the downed aircraft," Detweiler said.
"It was a bit frantic the first 30 to 40 seconds," Belew said. "There was a lot of adrenaline and concern,"
"From the looks of the helicopter, the way it was crumpled like a tin can, we were certain no one could have survived," Anderson said.
Once those first ground troops arrived, everyone knew what had to be done. The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Timothy Lane, sat trapped in his cockpit seat under his inverted Kiowa helicopter, his left arm contorted and pinned behind the seat.
"It still just boggles my mind that it was a helicopter. It looked like a piece of (Soviet) junk. Then we realize there is a pilot trapped in there," Jackson said. "We have got to get this guy out. Our only concern was to get him free and to medical attention."
"(Lane) had his wits about him, but he was upset, in a lot of pain and he wanted out of there pretty bad," Belew said. "No one panicked, though."
So, as Detweiler, Jackson, Alexander, Zugay, Brummell and Belew lifted in unison, Belew cut Lane's gear and webbing free.
"Then with one final heave we got him out," Belew said.
Belew didn't expect to be part of a rescue operation. The 47-year-old veteran said he feels good about his role in the rescue.
"I would not trade that day for (anything). I would not want to go back to the States. I would want to be here to help with that crash," Belew said. "If one person from that group had been missing we would not have gotten him out. It took everything we had."
The TF Saber safety officer, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jon Sturnick, conducted the safety investigation after the crash and commented on the speed and efficiency with which everyone responded.
Responders were on the scene within 15 minutes of the crash, and both pilots sustained only minor injuries.
"You could not ask for a better response to a downed aircraft," Sturnick said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson and fellow soldiers with the Kansas Army National Guard's 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment have been deployed to Afghanistan from Fort Riley as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. This column was reviewed by Clawson's commanding officer and a representative of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka before it was submitted to The Topeka Capital-Journal.