23 July 2014

Tiger 45, pt. 2: Rescue operations

1146: The fire appears at the left side of the engine bay door, and lunges forward toward the cockpit. Both crew chiefs are out of the bird, but one (1CC) is injured and cannot climb free of the boulders and the debris.  The second crew chief (2CC) assists him clear and rushes back toward the cockpit. The co-pilot has regained consciousness and frees herself from her harness but cannot get her door to open. The 2CC appears and removes the rescue door from the outside and she egresses to safety.

1147: The fire is feeding off the fluids leaking from above the cockpit, hydraulics and oils, and debris begins to fall inside the cockpit. Maj Forney’s left arm is useless; he unbuckles his harness and lifts his legs from the crushed console, turning his feet toward the co-pilot’s door, but his helmet is hung up on something. He removes it, but can’t open his rescue door because it is wedged on the rocks. He cannot push himself up and over the central consoles and out. A piece of burning debris falls on Maj Forney’s neck. He looks up and sees the flames working along the cabin ceiling above him.

1148: Maj Forney hears the 2CC calling to him, he yells in response, but the crew chief can’t hear him over the fire. Maj Forney tries to use his left arm and hand to push himself, but the arm doesn't function; the cockpit is filling with smoke. He is running out of oxygen and his shouting grows dimmer. The fire finds Maj Forney; flames attack his flight suit, his arms, and his face.

1149: The 2CC makes one last rush at the co-pilot’s door. He spots Maj Forney’s boots and drags him out of the burning wreckage, smothering whatever flames remain. He is on his back, smoldering, and the co-pilot and 2CC pat him down again, before pulling him further from the savaged aircraft.

1155: The co-pilot scouts the LZ and she and the 2CC pull Maj Forney to the highest, flattest open area on the ridge, less than 200 feet away from the burning wreck, but options are limited. The 2CC assists the 1CC from his egressed position and the crew members assemble around Maj Forney. The co-pilot gets on her radio to call for help. She has no coordinates available as the map is back in the burning aircraft, so Maj Forney tells her their approximate position in relation to checkpoints along a Terrain Flight route in the same training area. He also keeps calling out to his crew to ensure they are there. Within a few minutes, the remaining crew members, who had been at LZ Alpha, scramble up the mountainside and join their fellow Marines at the crash site, including the last crew chief (3CC), who uses his knowledge as a former SERE instructor to assist Maj Forney.

1200??: The crew takes turns giving Maj Forney water from their survival vests and the 3CC directs the remaining crew members to remove their flight suits to create shade to protect Maj Forney's skin from further damage. Maj Forney does not know the extent of the damage to his body and nobody tells him.

The co-pilot reaches a KC-130 (VMGR-152, call sign "Sumo) involved with another aspect of Cobra Gold. She talks them on to their location and they assume duties as the On Scene Commander, circling overhead and relaying information back to Camp Akatosorat (Camp A), where Tiger squadron, HMM-262 (REIN) receives the news and launches another Phrog to their location to assist.

The minutes stretch on waiting for the second Phrog to arrive. Maj Forney keeps asking the 3CC how far out the CASEVAC bird is, the 3CC replies the same way, over and over, "10 minutes, sir, I can hear them in the distance." Maj Forney answers, "Bullshit," every time, but the 3CC keeps lying to him, keeping Maj Forney's spirits up. The Tiger Phrog finally arrives, but given the size and shape of the zone, there is no place to land in the zone, so after dropping water to the downed crew, they land in LZ Alpha and work with Sumo in the overhead and squadron ops back at Camp A to formulate an evacuation plan. Transporting Maj Forney down the mountain to LZ Alpha is untenable due to his injuries.

Meanwhile, an Army company, flying UH-60 helicopters, also based out of Camp A for the exercise, is conducting a VIP flight out west in Ban Dan La Hoi. They are mistakenly told that an Army CH-47 Chinook has gone down east of Phitsanluk.  They divert their flight, return to Camp A, drop their VIP passengers, shuffle their crew to include medical personnel and take off east back in the direction of Tiger 45.

The UH-60 arrives on-scene, but the zone is tight and the wreckage consumes the main landing area; the pilot, CWO2 A. McDonough, lowers his bird along the edge of the zone, placing only his right main wheel on the ridge. He holds the aircraft steady against that wheel, while an Army surgeon, two medics and a pilot, trained as a medic. The UH-60 peels off and also heads overhead to await further instruction. CWO2 McDonough says a prayer that he is able to find a way to land and retrieve the injured Marines and the medical crew.

The medical team starts triage - two medics attend to the 1CC and the co-pilot and the surgeon and medic pilot focus on Maj Forney. He is intensely dehydrated but they have extreme difficulty finding a vein into which to get fluids; they finally settle for a thin line, less than desired, but all they can do and Maj Forney starts receiving fluids. They can do nothing for his other injuries on the mountain, including any true assessment of the extent of the burns or bodily trauma. The surgeon moves on to the other crew members, and the medic pilot remains with Maj Forney. Maj Forney asks him, "Am I going to make it?" The reply, "Yeah, man, you're going to be fine." Maj Forney thinks that the medic pilot is just trying to keep him positive.

When the injured are sufficiently stable, the able-bodied personnel in the zone clear away brush and debris, creating a place for the UH-60 to land. CWO2 McDonough brings the helicopter in, able to just place all three wheels in the makeshift zone. Maj Forney, the 1CC and the co-pilot are loaded onto the aircraft and the UH-60 lifts, direct line to Camp A. where emergency medical teams are awaiting their arrival.
The actual landing to evacuate the Maj Forney, the 1CC and the co-pilot.
CWO2 McDonough returns to the same mountain top two more times
 to retrieve all remaining personnel. 
It is now approximately 1515, three and a half hours after Tiger 45 crashed.

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