Monday, August 8, 2011

Rescue Ops. - Apaches to the Cavalry's Rescue

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.
Excerpted from 10th Mountain Division by Fred Pushies.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

In the summer of 2007, Chief Warrant Officers Mark Burrows and Steven Cianfrini with the 17th Cavalry Regiment’s Troop C, 3rd Squadron, took off from their base in Iraq. What began as a routine reconnaissance mission with a sister scout helicopter would turn into a life or death situation for the two OH-58 Kiowa pilots.

The aviators were supporting an infantry unit south of Baghdad and had just located a suspected roadside improvised explosive device (IED). Chief Warrant Officer Cianfrini was the first to spot the enemy fire as tracers reached out to the OH-58 from the ground below. Chief Cianfrini immediately called out to Chief Warrant Officer Burrows to evade the incoming rounds. As the small-arms fire ceased, the pilots made the decision to return to base and assess any damage. All of a sudden, a heavy machine gun opened up on the small scout helicopter. Large caliber rounds began to impact the vulnerable Kiowa over and over. There was no time to locate and engage the enemy with the aircraft’s weapons. The pilots bobbed and weaved as best they could to avoid the incoming rounds.

Chief Warrant Officer Cianfrini recalled, “I saw the tracer rounds come up through the rotors, and at that point we tried to get out of range, check our instruments, make sure our systems were good and that nobody was hit.” As they continued to evade the enemy fire, several rounds from the machine gun found their mark. Slamming into the aircraft, the cockpit was abuzz with warning alarms and warning lights. More rounds hit the aircraft and destroyed the instrument panel. Chief Warrant Officer Cianfrini related, “One second it was there; the next it was a mess of wires.”

Having suffered multiple hits by both small- and large-caliber munitions, which caused extensive damage to the helicopter, the pilots knew they were going down. Chief Warrant Officer Burrows stated, “From the time the second engagement started to when we hit the ground, we were taking fire the whole time.”

The damaged Kiowa shook strongly as Chief Warrant Officer Burrows made the decision to attempt a controlled landing in a nearby field. He maneuvered the stricken helicopter back and forth in an attempt to escape the intense ground fire. Getting closer to the ground, he began to slow the OH-58, only to have the aircraft start spinning. At this point he knew his tail rotor had been hit and was of no use. He continued his autorotation in an effort to cushion the landing. Nevertheless, the Kiowa came down hard, bounced over a canal, and came to rest near a roadway, settling on its left side.

Aviators say any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. This was the case with the two chiefs. The pilots were banged up, bruised, and scratched but otherwise uninjured. They hurriedly climbed out of the helicopter and met near the front of the downed aircraft. Evaluating their current situation, Chief Warrant Officer Cianfrini realized his M4 carbine had been tossed from the aircraft when they hit the ground. The enemy having located the downed Kiowa again opened fire on the American aviators.

The two pilots agreed it was time to put some distance between them and the enemy. Making their way into the canal, the pilots utilized the dense growth of reeds to camouflage themselves. Chief Warrant Officer Burrows related, “When we got into it, we realized the water was up to our necks and we were in knee-deep mud. We physically couldn’t move from the center of the canal.” This predicament actually turned into a favorable position for the pilots. Had they not gotten stuck in the canal and continued up the other bank, they would have run into another group of insurgents. The enemy soldiers, now gathered on both banks of the canal, began shooting blindly into the reeds.

Concealed in the reeds, Chief Warrant Officer Burrows remembers that moment: “All we could do was wait for what seemed to be the inevitable. Bullets clipped the reeds around us, hitting the water they we were standing in but not us. They just didn’t see us. I had one of the attackers in my sights, but I knew if I’d shot him they would have known where we were.”

Not having any success with their assault rifles, the insurgents pulled up to the canal in a truck and began firing into the reeds with a heavy machine gun. Again, the rounds came close but none of them hit the pilots who had hunkered down in the water. Eventually, the insurgents gave up the hunt, loaded into their trucks, and left the area. Chief Warrant Officer Burrows commented, “When they started leaving, walking away, I felt amazement that we were still there.”

The other Kiowa that had been flying with Chief Warrant Officer Burrows had also come under enemy fire. As they moved off to a safer distance, they radioed in for reinforcements. In response to Chief Warrant Officer Burrows’ radio call, “Fallen Angel,” indicating a coalition aircraft had gone down, army helicopters and air force jets began arriving on the scene.

A pair of AH-64 Apaches from the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, responded to Chief Warrant Officer Burrows’ distress call and was orbiting nearby. One of the Apaches, piloted by Chief Warrant Officers Allan Davison and Micah Johnson, landed near the downed pilots. Chief Warrant Officer Johnson, the front-seat pilot, jumped out to check Chief Warrant Officers Burrows and Cianfrini for injuries.

There was a real concern the insurgents may return to engage the aircraft rescuing their comrades. To expedite the extraction of the downed pilots, the decision was made not to wait for a Black Hawk or other type of helicopter. The pilots would be extracted using a technique called the “spur ride.” This method, though rather unorthodox, was a practical and functional means of removing the pilots from harm’s way. Chief Warrant Officers Burrows and Cianfrini climbed up on the stubby wings of the AH-64 helicopter. These wings, located on both sides of the aircraft, were used to hold the weapons stores, that is, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, folding-fin rocket pods, and so forth. Using their safety harnesses and D-rings, the pair of Kiowa pilots attached themselves to the exterior of the airframe. Secured to the Apache helicopter, the gunship pilot lifted off and returned to base with his passengers.

Thirty minutes had elapsed from the crash landing to their rescue. Chief Warrant Officer Burrows stated, “It wasn’t the most comfortable flight, but I was elated to be out of there. I knew we would be rescued, but I can’t believe that through all this we made it through without serious injury. That’s the kind of unbelievable part.” Chief Warrant Officer Cianfrini added, “It happened so fast I don’t think we really thought about much except just trying to stay alive.”

Excerpted from 10th Mountain Division by Fred Pushies. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.

No comments:

Post a Comment