World

Afghan chopper crash was 'chaotic': reporter

Confusion erupted amid the wreckage of a Canadian Forces helicopter in the moments after it crash-landed in southern Afghanistan early Monday morning, injuring four soldiers, a reporter on the chopper recounts.
A Canadian helicopter sits on its side after it crashed on landing in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan on Monday. Four Canadian soldiers were injured, one of them seriously, in the incident. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Chaos and confusion erupted amid the wreckage of a Canadian Forces helicopter in the moments after it crash-landed in southern Afghanistan early Monday morning, injuring four soldiers, a reporter on the chopper recounted.

"It happened very, very, very quickly," said Colin Perkel, a Canadian Press journalist covering Canada's military deployment to Afghanistan.  "There was almost no time to even think, 'Oh my God, what is going on?'

"The whole scene was completely chaotic. All the folk on the left side of the chopper had basically just come flying through the air with their rifles and their backpacks and kits and radios and everything else, had just come flying through and landed on the people who were on my side. And things were very, very confused."

One soldier suffered serious injuries when the Chinook helicopter crashed in a remote part of Panjwaii district.

The chopper, carrying five crew and about 25 soldiers along with Perkel, flipped onto its side as it attempted to land in the pitch dark. There was no enemy activity at the time of the crash, which happened after the pilot apparently misjudged his altitude.

The interior of a Canadian Forces chopper is shown on its side after it crashed on landing in the Panjwaii district of southern Afghanistan early Monday. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

"The dry riverbed that we landed in is very, very, very fine sand and almost like moon dust because it just puffs up," Perkel said. "And I think that the pilot sort of got disoriented or misjudged the actual height of where we were and tried to come in once and it almost landed on a berm on one side of this area, then moved over and must have thought we're on the ground and cut the engine at that point. And so we came down."

Soldiers and tanks were called in to form a ring around the crash site to ensure insurgents could not get to the damaged helicopter.

"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.

"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.

Mission called off

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.

Another Chinook was called in, arriving as day broke, to ferry the stranded passengers back to a forward operating base.

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.

With files from The Canadian Press