Real world crashes into annual exercise
CAMP CASEY, Korea – Eight soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division were recognized for their lifesaving efforts in Thailand during Cobra Gold 2013 at ceremony on Camp Casey, Korea, March 20, 2013.
The eight soldiers were involved in a harrowing real-world rescue mission Feb. 20, 2013, when a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, crashed 20 miles north of Phitsanulok, Thailand, while conducting routine flight operations.
Reports initially reached the Cobra Gold base from Thai locals in the area. The 2nd Infantry Division “Wildcard” soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion (Assault), 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and “Manchu” Soldier Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, were airborne within 20 minutes.
In addition to the every emergency supply they could think of – medical supplies, litters, water, etc. - onboard for the recovery mission was the Manchu battalion surgeon, Capt. Andy Martinez, senior health care specialist, Sgt. John Baah-Mensah, and a Wildcard crew consisting of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Flemister, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Adams, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Adam McDonough, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Derek Reynolds, Sgt. Christopher Bohatch, Sgt. Michael Ezell and Spc. Hyun Joon Lim.
Another Sea Knight and its Marine crew in the vicinity was first on the site. Reports of the crashed Sea Knight on fire and injured Marines suffering from burns, lacerations and fractures were sent back to headquarters. But the Marines were unable to reach the crash victims because of the difficult landing; the crashed Sea Knight was on the edge of a cliff with a sheer 800 foot drop-off surrounded by jungle.
The Sea Knight landed at the base of the cliff and two of its Marine crew began the ascent to reach the crash site.
Requesting Air Force assistance to navigate incoming thunder storms, the 2nd Infantry Division soldiers arrived in the vicinity in 20 minutes, and searched for the crash site for another 10 minutes. The chatter on the emergency channel grew furious until finally, they spotted the crashed crew.
"You don't have to be an aviation expert to know that was a very difficult landing to make in a steep, jungle area," said Martinez.
Smaller than a Sea Knight, the Black Hawk proved to be more maneuverable in this situation.
"On one attempt we landed on one wheel, by the second attempt my crew was able to better guide me and we were able to reach them,” said McDonough.
McDonough was able to hover the Black Hawk on two wheels, inches away from the tree line, long enough for five of its crew to disembark and start providing medical assistance.
"Once there, we had to mobilize [the crash victims] on a very narrow cliff to move them to a safer area where they could be treated," said Martinez.
The Wildcard crew loaded and evacuated the Marines with the most severe injuries. The Black Hawk made three roundtrips back to the Cobra Gold base with the injured Marines.
"One key to what made this mission a success was the high frequency radio we have that no one else on the ground has,” McDonough said. “We were able to communicate ‘Over-the-Horizon,’ without the limits that cell phones or FM radios have, to maintain real time situational reports back to headquarters."
“You can’t help but be inspired by this story,” said Cardon during the recognition ceremony. “If you look at the heroes of the Army, they often didn’t think they would be heroes that day. But they were ready. These soldiers demonstrated the greatness of this division by being ready.”
Although the crash is still under investigation, the division leaders all agree that seven lives were saved because the 2nd Infantry Division soldiers were trained and ready for anything.
“These soldiers’ performance in a word is ‘awesome,’” said Brig. Gen. J.B. Burton, deputy commanding general – maneuvers, 2nd Infantry Division. “In a phrase, it’s ‘Second to none!’”