An Attack Pilot's Nightmare

"I still wake up at night in a sweat"
- By CPT Patrick O'Brien -
I was the platoon leader for Gun Platoon, Bravo company (Warlords) 1-24 Attack Helicopter Battalion in Savannah GA. We were on a battle drill there at Ft Stewart and attacking into an Engagement Area (EA) called Snake.

Picture EA Snake as a box with Battle Position (BP) 43 at the south end and BP 51 at the southwest end. Holding Area (HA) Viper was 20 km to the southeast of BP 43. Alpha Company (Death Adders) were occupying BP 43 oriented North with the Battalion Commander amongst their flight.

Enroute to HA Viper, the company commander, Tom Drew was engaged and destroyed (notionally of course) by a Suface to Air Missile (SAM). (Tom was flight lead in the attack on Iraq on 7 Jan 91 that started the Gulf war. He knocked out the Iraqi SAM site that allowed free corridor to Baghdad. He fired the first shots of Desert Storm.) Anyway, he landed his aircraft and told me I was in charge of the company now.

We waited in Viper for 5 minutes as I called DART/SAR (Downed Aircrew Recovery Team / Search And Rescue) aircraft to recover Tom. As the Death Adders went Winchester (expended ordnance), the Battalion Commander called us ingress to BP 51. This route crossed south of BP 43 that the Adders were occupying. Enroute to BP 51, the Battalion Commander called the Adders egress to the south (crossing our ingress route).

I missed the call as did all others in the flight because we were talking on our UHF company internal frequency. I was wearing Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) that amplify ambient light. The back seater (who was on the controls) CW4 Bill Goforth was using the Night Vision System (NVS). The NVS paints a thermal image (as the Predator saw in the movie of the same name) but it does not see long distances as well as the NVGs do. I was calling "aircraft at 1 o'clock, aircraft nearing two", when Bill asked me: "what is the "fly to" in the GPS" I looked down at my knee board and my stick man drawing had BP 51 as waypoint 15. I looked at the Doppler/INS/GPS display and it showed waypoint 15 as the current "fly to". I said "We are flying to BP 51" and looked up.

I saw an emergency immediately. There was an Apache about 100 meters to my immediate right, 90 degree heading to us... we were on a direct collision course. At 150 knots, that is about 1 second. I felt such fear and adrenaline that I smelt it. My Olefactory sense was affected. Anyway, Bill saw them and was waiting to see what they did. When they broke high, Bill broke low. I heard the tail rotor of their ship about 5 meters above my head. Since I was flight lead, as was that ship, the rest of the flight had a similar "midnight airshow" above that moonless night in Savannah. It was the one of the most frightening moments in my life... I still fly the "Fully Air Conditioned All Weather Freedom Fighter" in Colorado Springs but will never forget that scrape with death. God watched out for me that night. I am thankful he preserved me to see over my family. Fly safe keep the greasy side down.

CPT Patrick O'Brien

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