Black Hawk Crew Rescues Three Afghan Children Near Salerno
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jun. 30, 2005 A routine orientation flight turned out to be anything but routine, at least for three Afghan children stranded in the middle of a flooded river near Salerno, Afghanistan, June 29.
It all started as Chief Warrant Officer James Gisclair was giving an orientation flight to a pilot new to the area. He and the new pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Nathan Scott, spotted a flash flood occurring after heavy rains hit the area earlier that day. They noticed a group of people standing alongside the banks of a flooding river, pointing toward the middle as they followed its path.
"As we looked closer we saw three kids stuck on a concrete foundation with the river rushing past them," Gisclair said. "We went back to Salerno, where we asked to go back to rescue the kids. We were approved to go back and get them, and when we got back there, the water had risen to above their feet."
The pilots, flying a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter configured for medical evacuations, couldn't land close enough to pull the stranded kids to safety. They had to rely on a hoist system called a jungle penetrator. The hoist basically is a cable with a seat at the end, and it's lowered or raised with the help of the aircraft's crew chief. To rescue the children, someone had to sit on the end of the hoist while someone else lowered him to the children.
The arduous task fell to Sgt. Tyrone Jordan. As Jordan got ready to be lowered to the now panic-stricken children, Spc. Christopher Zimmerman set the winch in motion, lowering him toward the rapidly moving water.
"They were real scared -- scared and cold. Shivering, in fact," said Jordan. "They didn't want to come to me at first, but when I smiled and held out my hand they came running."
The hoist could only hold three people at a time, so Jordan took the two youngest boys, who he guesses were ages 5 and 8, with him up to the helicopter.
"They were really scared of heights, I think," he said. "One of them panicked and kicked me off the hoist when I put them into the aircraft, but thanks to Zimmerman I was secured to the cable and was able to pull myself back on to it."
Gisclair and Scott flew the helicopter a short distance away to let the two children out before going back for the last one.
"We flew them about three football fields away," Gisclair said. "We set them down in an open backyard and then went back for the last kid."
The crowd of onlookers, which had looked disappointed and even angry when the aircrew flew away after first spotting the children, had now swelled to about 600 people, Gisclair said. The aircrew had no way to tell them they had to go to Salerno Air Base before they could rescue the children, he said. In the end, it didn't matter, and their intent soon was clear enough for all too see.
"They were happy to see us, I could tell," he said. "They were clapping and waving their hands at us when we picked up and set down the first two. The kids were scared, but they were safe."
The third boy, who Jordan guesses was 10, came quickly to the aircraft. "He wasn't scared at all of me or the helicopter, but he was cold and shivering very badly," Jordan said. "The wind near the water was whipping around pretty good, and the water was flowing very fast."
The aircraft's pilots and crew are made up of a hodgepodge of units from across the world. Gislair and Zimmerman are from the 68th Medical Evacuation Company in Hawaii and Alaska, and Scott is from the 159th Medical Evacuation Company from Germany. Jordan also is based out of Germany with the 45th Medical Evacuation Company.
(Courtesy of Combined Joint Task Force 76 public affairs.)