Between July 28 and July 30, two Mi-17s with mixed crews of mostly Afghans saved more than 2,000 Afghans in severe flooding conditions in Nangahar and Kunar provinces.
KABUL, Afghanistan (July 30, 2010) — Afghan and coalition members from the Combined Air Power Transition Force (CAPTF) teamed up Wednesday and Thursday to rescue more than 2,000 Afghan citizens from flooding in the Nangahar and Kunar provinces.
The mostly Afghan crew, led by Kabul Air Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Barat, utilized just two Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters over a 33-hour period.
“The rescue effort started west of Jalalabad, moving 50 people stranded by flooding to high ground. Flying in poor weather, the crews rescued about 300 people by the end of the first day,” said Brig Gen Michael R. Boera, Commander of CAPTF, an organization in the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan charged with developing Afghanistan’s air power institutions.
Because of weather, the Kabul-based crews remained at Jalalabad Airfield overnight Wednesday, waking early Thursday to more calls for help. Day two, as it turns out, would be a long day flying in some dangerous areas.
“The crews were called out for rescues in Kunar, five miles south of Asadabad. This is a region of conflict, with a history of surfice-to-air fire, which is particularly dangerous to helicopter operations,” said Lt Col Paul Birch, a CAPTF spokesman.
“Flight crews were cognizant of Taliban presence throughout the day, with rescued individuals bringing routine reports of fighters’ proximity,” Birch continued. “The National Military Command Center coordinated for Afghan National Police protection for the pick-up points - and effective use of all parts of the Afghan National Security Forces.”
Aircrews airlifted about 1,700 people, flying the two helicopters almost nonstop, only pausing to refuel. Evacuating so many people with just two helicopters was a testament to the teamwork and also the flexibility and quality of the aircraft, according to the U.S. Air Force general in charge of CAPTF air operations.
“The new Mi-17s were amazing. The passenger loads were phenomenal, with the dual doors and ramp being indispensible. Also, the common cockpit configuration instrumentation was critical in the marginal weather,” Boera said.
During the course of the rescue operations, coalition crews displayed many acts of heroism that were awe inspiring, according to Birch. “Lt. Col. Bernard “Jeep” Willi, a CAPTF advisor pilot, held one wheel on the side of a bridge while hovering to allow stranded Afghans to board. Another pilot performed a rescue with his Mi17 submerged to the fuselage,” Birch said. During the day, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Fife, CAPTF crew chief advisor, was teamed with Afghan crew chiefs in helping load people on the helicopter. During several rescue missions, Fife saw children in the water who needed assistance, and without hesitation, he went in to get them.
“When you see people in need you have to make a decision, react or do nothing. I choose to do something because that is what we do, we act. I saw someone who needed help and I helped,” Fife said. “This is why we are here, to help people who are in need. Anyone would have done the same thing over the two days we were out there,” Fife continued.
Once the mission was the complete, the Air Force general had nothing but praise for the Afghan and coalition partners who helped so many people in need.
“I’m proud to be the CAPTF commanding general given the heroic exploits of the Afghans and Americans on this embedded partnership disaster relief mission of mercy,” Boera said.