Return flight turned into a nightmare for Black Hawk crew
April 18, 2005
The mission was complete. All that remained was the quick flight from Baghdad to home at Logistics Support Area Anaconda. Dusk was approaching. It was Nov. 12, 2004. As always, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel Milberg was flying low and fast, the standard practice for helicopters in Iraq. But this trip was to be like no other for him.
“I thought I heard small-arms fire,” said Milberg, who was piloting a UH-60 Black Hawk. “I thought I felt it. I wasn’t sure.”
A fireball then crashed into the cockpit. Milberg, of the 106th Aviation Battalion, could feel the heat from the orange flash.
“It came in the right side of the cockpit. I felt the aircraft shake and vibrate pretty hard,” said the National Guard member from Des Peres, Mo.
Electrical power was lost. Milberg looked for a place to land and guided his crippled bird to a clearing, struggling once to clear a tall tree that blocked his path.
When he landed, Milberg knew his co-pilot was badly hurt. The rocket-propelled grenade that had hit their Black Hawk had severed her legs.
Milberg, 39, shut down the engine and told one of the two crewmen in the back to pull. Milberg jumped out and ran around to assess his co-pilot.
“That’s when [the crewman] told me he couldn’t help because his leg was broken,” he said. “I didn’t know he was injured. He didn’t say anything.”
Milberg grabbed the injured crewman and carried him a few feet from the aircraft. He shouted for the other crewman to take pull security.
“That’s when he said, ‘I can’t. I’m hit,’” the pilot said. His final crewman had been shot and lost a lot of blood.
“I felt pretty helpless,” Milberg said.
Aviators in the other aircraft — they always fly in pairs — had seen Milberg’s chopper go down. They circled while they radioed the base at Taji to call for a medical evacuation aircraft.
The other aircraft landed within 100 feet of Milberg’s. He waved for the crew to come and help.
Milberg’s adrenaline had run out. He was stumbling on the uneven ground and unable to help much as they carried the wounded. He waved for one of the other pilots to lend a hand.
He doesn’t know how long he’d been on the ground before the wounded were loaded on the other chopper and they all were on their way to Taji. Less than five minutes, surely.
The co-pilot spent weeks in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. One crewman returned to Missouri to let the wounds to his legs heal.
“The other guy is still carrying a bullet in his behind,” Milberg said. “He’s back here, ready to start flying again.”
Milberg said everything went right after everything went wrong. He was able to land the Black Hawk and maintain his wits as he learned he was the only uninjured person aboard the aircraft.
Milberg is a public safety officer back home, working for both the police and fire departments. He has flown helicopters for 15 years and was on active duty in Operations Desert Shield and Storm.
He has flown several missions since Nov. 12. But something has changed.
“I don’t care for it as much as I used to,” he said.