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Airmen respond to downed helicopter, save two

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe
  • NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan Public Affairs
It started as any other training day for the crew of Jayhoon 11; however, the events of Sept. 7 proved to be a test of tactics, training and teamwork.

"Start up and taxi were uneventful," said Tech. Sgt. Matty Garcia, a 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron Mi-17 evaluator aerial gunner. "Upon holding short of Jayhoon Pad, Shindand Tower informed us to hold position for an emergency in progress."

The emergency occurred moments earlier when U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas "Andy" Miller and Afghan air force Lt. Massoud Islamkhil's MD530 helicopter landed on an improvised explosive device during a routine training mission.

The detonation threw shrapnel and debris in all directions, blew one of the aircraft skids and pieces of rotor down the side of the hill and started the aircraft on fire.

Islamkhil had recently graduated from his initial qualification course in the Mi-17, and had been selected to become part of the first cadre of Afghan instructors to teach undergraduate helicopter training in the MD-530, the first step in replacing coalition pilots in Afghanistan. The flight was his first in a series to provide the hours needed to begin his advanced instructor training.

"Knowing that we were armed, and that my crew was trained in rescue, I requested to launch to assist," said Capt. Mary Clark, the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Mi-17 evaluator pilot and chief of flight safety.

"I made a quick approach to the base of the hill with the idea of dropping off my back enders to assist the victims," she said. "Once on the ground, we realized the hill was much larger than we initially assessed and impractical to hike."

After discussing options with the crew, Clark made the decision to get as close to the crash site as possible and have Garcia jump out of the aircraft to assess and treat the victims.

"I called the aircraft as close as I thought safe to the rock face on the right side of the aircraft and called for a descent to approximately 10 feet," Garcia said. "I notified the crew that I would be off (communications), released my gunner's belt and unplugged from the comm cord. I exited the aircraft off the right step at approximately 10-15 feet. Upon landing I immediately started on foot up the hill to the crash site."

On the hilltop, Garcia faced a scene of broken bones, blood near the burning aircraft. Both Miller and Islamkhil were outside the aircraft, but only Miller was conscious. He told Garcia he believed Islamkhil was dead, despite his efforts of placing tourniquets on the Afghan's arm and leg.

"At this point I heard a 'popping' sound," Garcia said. "I looked at the crash site, approximately 50 feet away, and realized that CW4 Miller's M-4 was in the fire, and his bag containing extra rounds was on fire. I heard one round go past my head and I immediately repositioned Mr. Miller behind a rock. I was afraid that he would be hit by a round cooking off. It was at that moment that I heard the Afghan cry out and realized that he was still alive. I told Mr. Miller to keep talking to tower. He was weak and I did not want him to lose consciousness. I reasoned that if he was talking on the radio, he would not lose consciousness."

After assessing injuries, Garcia placed an additional tourniquet over a makeshift one on Islamkhil's leg and tightened the existing one on his arm.

While Garcia was busy on the ground, Clark was making calls to request a hoist and two litters to transport the victims from the site. At the same time, she said, she was also thinking of the best way to provide additional support to Miller and Islamkhil.

"I knew we had firemen on board and that they would have medical training," she said. "I needed my remaining gunner and my flight engineer to call my hover clearance and man our guns against further threats. With this in mind, I asked Master Sgt. (Dan) Parker, a fireman, if he was willing to jump out and assist."

Parker agreed to assist with the medical action taking place on the ground, and Clark made another drop off near the site.

"About four minutes after I was dropped off, I observed Jayhoon 11 on the approach to the same location where I was dropped off," Garcia said. "I shielded CW4 Miller as best I could from the rotor wash and flying debris. I did not see them depart, but two minutes later, Master Sgt. Parker arrived at the crash site. I knew he was a firefighter with more medical training than me, so I directed him to assist the Afghan in any way he could. I brought my personal (individual first aid kit) with me, but due to the nature of both patients' injuries, there was nothing in it that would have helped. Master Sgt. Parker did an outstanding job assessing the Afghan and calming him."

During that time, both Jayhoon 11 and her sister ship set up a tight orbit, keeping in constant contact with the tower. When the Army HH-60 Pave Hawk arrived on scene, Clark helped them navigate to the scene.

"When the Army 60s arrived on scene we moved our two-ship to the south to keep up a protective posture but remain clear so we weren't in the way of their hoist operations," Clark said. "We were very lucky that we were in the right place at the right time with very capable crews that day."

Clark spoke with Miller before his surgery, who thanked her for saving his life. He said he was grateful for Garcia's presence and reassurance on top of the medical aid and radio coordination he provided.

"The doctors told us that he (Garcia) saved both lives by tightening and applying the tourniquets expeditiously," Clark said.