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Afghan National Army Assists in Plane Crash Aftermath

By Sgt. 1st Class Mack Davis, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 14, 2005 – The crash of a Kam Air Boeing 737 passenger jet on Feb. 4 was believed to be Afghanistan's worst air disaster.

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The ANA was called up to support the rescue attempt of Kam Air 737-200 that crashed Feb. 4. The soldiers were able to reach the summit, but had to descend due to severe weather conditions. Several had to be treated for frostbite and other cold-related injuries. Photo by Maj. Eric Bloom, USA
  

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The International Security Assistance Force made numerous unsuccessful rescue attempts by helicopter. But when technology failed, the Afghan National Army responded with boots on the ground.

Following the crash of the plane carrying 104 people, the Ministry of Defense ordered the ANA's Central Corps to assemble a team to attempt a rescue of victims presumed to be alive.

The crash site was at an altitude of 11,000 feet on the peak of the Chaperi Mountain, 20 miles east of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The ANA's mission was to reach the summit to locate survivors via the opposite side of Chaperi from where the crash site occurred.

At Pol-e-Charkhi, where the ANA's Central Corps soldiers are based, Lt. Col. Kabuly Qadeer, commander of 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade quickly gathered his soldiers, who mounted their vehicles and prepared to head to the Chenari Village at the base of the mountain.

Alongside the ANA were their U.S. embedded tactical trainers. The team's commander, South Carolina Army National Guard Lt. Col. Gordon Johnson Jr., said their mission was to support the Afghan soldiers in any situation that developed.

At the base of Chaperi Mountain, the 2nd Kandak and the U.S. advisers set up a command center to coordinate between ISAF and Central Corps headquarters.

First, the ANA set up two checkpoints leading into the area to limit the number of people around the crash site.

Next, Qadeer, a seasoned mountain fighter familiar with the terrain, accompanied 40 of his ANA soldiers aboard a BMP-1 armored personal carrier. Along with them was a local village elder to use as a guide in a rescue attempt.

The team departed the base camp around 1 p.m. on Feb. 6. The ANA soldiers, without any type of special climbing gear, were able to reach halfway up the mountain by dusk in the difficult weather. But they had to halt operations due to a snowstorm, but were able to find a cave to hunker down in for the night.

Qadeer returned with half of the soldiers on the BMP-1 back down the mountain to give a situation report to the command center and to collect more supplies. Meanwhile, the soldiers who remained behind burned two of their sleeping bags to generate heat. They said once they got the cave warm, body heat kept them comfortable.

Back at the command center Qadeer and Johnson discussed how the first attempt to ascend the mountain was going.

"The climb is going good, and we had to stop because of the snow," Qadeer said optimistically. "I will get my men some more equipment and supplies and head out again in the morning." Johnson gave Qadeer an update from ISAF, which was planning to fly a Slovenian mountain rescue team onto the mountain.

The two of them, along with other 2nd Kandak staff, reviewed the plan for Feb. 7. "The eyes of the world are watching the ANA on this mission," Johnson said. "And the army is showing the Afghan people that they are able to serve them in many situations."

Packed and ready to go, the team departed the base camp. At 7 a.m., the ANA soldiers were off again with fresh clothes, carrying extra food and water.

The team was able to reach an area of the summit within five hours and rejoin its other half, which had continued its mission the same morning.

"I am really impressed with these guys. The way they persevered up the mountain without special climbing gear is remarkable, and they are getting the job done," according to U.S. adviser South Carolina Army National Guard Capt. Benjamin Dunn.

The soldiers began to continually probe the snow with climbing sticks in hopes of finding some remnants of the wreckage. Because the snow was over chest high and the ANA was not equipped with any type of global positioning devices, locating the main crash site was difficult.

In the meantime, ISAF got an aircraft up to the site that morning with a team of Slovenian mountain rescue members, who located the site and determined that no one had survived the crash.

Then, the ISAF members had to leave the mountain to avoid being caught in the adverse conditions.

And the Afghan soldier team was within 100 meters of the crash site when a severe storm warning was issued from the command center. The team had hoped to spend that night on the mountain and await medical team arrival the following morning, Feb. 8, according to Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, Ministry of Defense spokesperson.

But their commander ordered them back to base camp. As the ANA soldiers made their way down, the weather deteriorated rapidly. But the soldiers made it back ahead of the storm, bringing with them valuable information. According to Johnson, "the speed and audacity in which the ANA operated on this mission would be impressive to any nation's army."

Determining there were no survivors, the ISAF rescue team shifted the operation from a rescue to a recovery mission. ISAF began Phase 2 of the operation: planning recovery. But the snow had continued and fog covered the mountainside, hampering flying operations.

The ANA adjusted its operation and was standing by to assist in the recovery. It will continue to provide security to the area and conduct checkpoint operations.

"The people of Afghanistan are proud of you," Qadeer told the soldiers of the 2nd Kandak. "You were given a mission to deploy, set up checkpoints, set up a command center, and climb to the crash site to support a rescue mission. And you completed the mission. I thank you all."

(Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Mack Davis is assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan; Okalahoma Army National Guard Maj. Eric Bloom assisted with this article.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLt. Col. Kabuly Qadeer, commander for 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, Afghan National Army, seated on the left in the command center at the base of the mountain where the crash occurred, and South Carolina Army National Guard Lt. Col. Gordon Johnson, embedded training team commander, discuss plans to climb to the summit of the Kam Air plane crash. The ANA was called up to help support the rescue attempt for Kam Air 737-200 that crashed Feb. 4. Photo by Maj. Eric Bloom, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAfghan National Army BMP-1 crew members of 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, wait on word to depart the base camp and head for the Kam Air 737-200 plane crash site. The ANA were called up to support a rescue attempt for survivors of a plane crash that occurred Feb. 4. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mack Davis, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAfghan National Army Lt. Col. Kabuly Qadeer, commander for 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, communicates with an Afghan soldiers at the halfway point up Chaperi Mountain. Qadeer returned off the mountain the night before to give a situation report to the command center. The ANA was called up to support the rescue attempt of Kam Air 737-200 that crashed Feb. 4. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mack Davis, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSoldiers of the Afghan National Army's 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, stand in formation. After ascending Chaperi Mountain, they discovered no survivors of the Kam Air flight that crashed Feb. 4. The team shifted its operation to a victim recovery operation. The ANA will support the International Security Assistance Force in the recovery efforts when weather will permit helicopter flight to the area. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mack Davis, USA  
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