Nov 2, 2001. Started off as Chalk 2 of two ship, but assumed lead since Chalk lead radar became inoperative.
Mission was to rescue Army SOF, as briefed he was in imminent danger of dying (later determined to be meningitis), bad weather made it impossible for Army SOAR to accomplish mission (weenies). Took off from FOB in Pakistan, crossed border into Afghanistan, Air Refueled and pressed on. Just NW of Kabul (crossing 12,500 ft mountain), encountered weather (snow storm), as Chalk lead with good radar, we pushed through leaving Chalk 2 behind to see how bad it was and if we could drag them through. Found a way through and returned to pick up Chalk 2. Started heading in and found the storm had intensified tremendously and decided to call it off. Chalk 2 was able to turn around, but as we did, stalled out at 11,000 ft, weighing 48,000 lbs. Rotor drooped to 94% and airspeed showed zero kts. Ground speed showed 24 kts, all of it sideways falling out of the sky. Co-pilot Jay Humphries (in the right seat though), grabbed the controls since the pilot (Jim Holder...A/C in the left seat) lost S/A slightly. Humphries kicked the tail and got us pointing to the ground to build up airspeed. I was in the right door and all I could see was clouds. I thought for sure we were going to pack it in and even said a quick prayer. Low and behold, we managed to recover, crossing a ridgeline at about 50-100 feet.
We departed to the south to hold, as we did, Chalk 2 was in a turn and lost sight of us as the weather closed behind as rapidly. We turned around and called them on the radio to get their coordinates so we didn't run into them. On the second radio call, they responded with "hold on", it was the last we heard from them. We tried to reach them on every radio we had, to no avail. Finally, the F-14 RESCORT for the mission picked them up on the radio and confirmed they had all 11 survivors, some with injuries. Apparently the same thing happened to them when trying to turn and they stalled out, but were not able to recover. We pushed through the weather several times scaring the wits out of us each time in an attempt to get to their position. We orbited in a dry lake bed, with less than a half a mile of vis, and rotor that would droop to 102% each time we turned more than 20 degrees. We were at 11,000 MSL, but only 300 feet AGL. After several hours, we had to head south to lower terrain to get fuel. En route to the A/R, a MANPAD was launched at us, but missed, we pressed on. After tanking up, we headed north again and now the weather was clearing. The RESCORT (Not Sandy qualified, but did a ok job doing the duty of one) notified us that he could now see the wreckage. After we got closer, we found out where the survivors were at (10,500 feet) on a mesa. In order to land and pick them up, we had to dump all of our gas except for the bare minimum in the mains. The Taliban in the town just to the east later reported that we were dumping nerve agent on them.
Started the approach to the LZ, very controlled, but still fell out of the sky at about 15 feet and rolled about 20 feet in a white-out, stopping with the PJ survivor underneath the rotor, three feet outside the right door. We loaded all the survivors and pulled pitch. We got up to about 5 feet and dropped to 3 feet as the rotor drooped down to 92%. We started forward very slow and while some of the guys were yelling to punch the tanks, Holder and I were yelling "No" and then I started yelling to get the gear up so we didn't clip anything. Essentially, we were flying (barely), but it was very slow going, up a hill, and not really gaining altitude. Finally, the terrain dropped off and we were able to get some airspeed and rotor back. The rotor wouldn't go above 102% until we dropped the collective to let it build, and then slowly pull it back in. By now we had already coordinated a tanker and got gas at over 11,000 feet MSL, but only at about 100 feet AGL. We fell off the hose after losing lift from being so heavy and high, but had enough to get to the FOB Zhob. Once there, we trans-loaded the (known) injured (not our call, but we tried to keep that entire crew together). After trans-load, we took off and headed home (after getting more A/R on the way). Arrived in Pakistan with visibility down to zero from dust and landed after 10.6 grueling hours.
Awarded the Air Medal and received the 2001 Mackay Trophy for the rescue. The pilots and the FE in the seat were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
May 2, 1999. Chalk lead of a three ship, 2 MH-53Ms and 1 MH-60G (55th SOS).
Up all night playing cards, arrived earlier in the day at FOB Tuzla to assume alert for Operation ALLIED FORCE. Overheard radio traffic that an F-16 had engine trouble, a few minutes later, confirmed it was hit by an SA-6 missile and going down in Serbia. Quickly planned, prepared, and launched towards border. As soon as we got to the border, encountered two SA-6 missiles (no launch indication on radar receiver), broke left and avoided missiles. A minute later, encountered an SA-9 missile that went up between Chalk two and three. Once clear of that, the mountainside lit up with Anti-Aircraft fire. The A-10 RESCORT flying at 21,000 feet was supposed to suppress it, but thought we weren't going to make it through and decided not to engage (he received the Silver Star for that if you can believe it). After several attempts to locate survivor, finally vectored in to his location. Lead identified survivor and flew over, Chalk 3 (MH-60) made short final and landed 40 ft from survivor. Chalk 2 and 3 assumed Close Air Support patterns, but it was not needed as Chalk 3 was in the air within 2 minutes. On final, the MH-60 took rounds from farmhouse down the road, right door gunner returned fire and suppressed enemy.
On the way out of country at the border, received AAA again and during engagement I had shrapnel hit my helmet, cracking the section that protects the clear/tinted visors (Never found the piece of shrapnel). When it hit me, I flew back about 4-5 feet and my Night Vision Goggles came off the helmet (that string around my neck prevented them from falling). As soon as I got up and put my goggles back on, we had already broke left and I was never able to return fire (and I'm still mad about it today).
The sun was coming up as we pressed on home and landed in pretty much daylight conditions, survivor safe and jumped on C-130 to head back to Aviano AB.
Total mission time was about 2 hours. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism.