Four Canadian soldiers were injured, one of them seriously, when a Chinook helicopter crashed on landing under moonlight in a remote part of Panjwaii district in southern Afghanistan early Monday.
The chopper, carrying five crew and about 25 soldiers along with a Canadian Press journalist, flipped onto its side, throwing men and equipment into a mad tangle of bodies, weapons and gear.
"The noise was just horrifying," one soldier said of the hull and rotors scraping.
Despite the smell of fuel, there was no fire but the helicopter was severely damaged. The haze and darkness were believed to have caused the crash and there was no enemy activity.
"I just wanted to get out because I could smell gasoline," Master Bombadier Nick Gurton said.
Many of those aboard spent several terrifying minutes trapped in the confusion, but everyone was able to make their way safely from the stricken craft into the dusty, moonlit night.
Soldiers immediately began setting up a security cordon and feverishly went to work in near darkness, using only small flashlights or headlamps to tend to their injured comrades, one of whom screamed and thrashed in agony.
"We're just lucky we did not come under [enemy] contact," another soldier said.
Medevac helicopters arrived and three of the injured were flown to hospital at Kandahar Airfield. The fourth was treated at the crash site.
The two-rotor Chinook was attempting to land on a dry river bed in the darkness when it hit hard on one side before crashing onto its side, apparently after the pilot misjudged its height in the haze and darkness. There was no enemy activity reported at the time of the crash.
"I don't blame the pilot at all," a soldier said of the difficult landing.
Tanks defend crash site
The helicopter, along with a second Chinook that landed safely, was deploying troops on an operation when the crash occurred. The mission was called off as a result of the mishap.
"I guess we're not saving Afghanistan today," Warrant Officer Steve (Scott) Scotto d'Anielo said.
A second Chinook was called in, arriving as day broke, to ferry the stranded passengers back to a forward operating base.
Soldiers and tanks called in for support formed a ring to ensure insurgents could not get to the damaged helicopter.
As the shock wore off and the injured were taken care of, soldiers expressed relief at making it out safely.
"I survived a crash," one said.
Capt. Cory Durant, who was promoted five days ago, said he didn't expect to die in a chopper crash so soon after his promotion.
The Canadian Press reporter had to struggle to free himself initially, but only suffered some bruises and scrapes along with damaged camera equipment.