Story by: Sgt. Jeremy A. Clawson
SHINDAND AIRFIELD, Afghanistan ---- Troops at Shindand Airfield charged into action the morning of Dec. 16 when an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter plunged to the desert floor four kilometers from the airfield tower.
One pilot climbed free; the other was pinned amidst mangled wreckage.
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 leapt 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, force protection 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 TF 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 task force Signal officer, headed toward the crash site in their high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle.
At the time of the crash, Master Sgt. Duane Detweiler, the Force Protection NCO 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 â?¦ I looked to the northeast and saw a huge cloud of dust," said Detweiler. 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 Brian Brummell, were on the scene when Detweiler, Alexander, Jackson and Belew arrived. One downed pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Scott 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 stand still, about 100 feet from some rubble, what 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," said Detweiler.
"It was a bit frantic the first 30 to 40 seconds â?¦ there was a lot of adrenaline and concern," said Belew.
"From the looks of the helicopter, the way it was crumpled like a tin can, we were certain no one could have survived," said Capt. Mike Anderson, flight surgeon for Task Force Saber, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
Once those first ground troops arrived, everyone knew what had to be done.
The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 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 â?¦ then we realize there is a pilot trapped in there," said Jackson. "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," said Belew. "No one panicked though."
So, as the rescue crew lifted in unison, Belew cut Lane's gear and webbing free.
"Then with one final heave we got him out," said Belew.
Belew did not 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," said Belew. "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 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," said Sturnick.