Soldiers hurt in attack on copter in Iraq undergoing treatment at Landstuhl
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Physicians Monday were treating 16 survivors of Sunday’s deadly helicopter crash in Iraq, including 11 soldiers who remained in intensive care at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
The 16 crash victims, one woman and 15 men, are the most combat casualties at one time that the hospital staff has treated since the war started, Landstuhl commander Col. Rhonda Cornum said during a news conference Monday.
“This is a significantly higher number of trauma cases than usual,” Cornum said, adding that the hospital has the resources to handle the cases.
Sixteen soldiers were killed Sunday when Iraqi resistance fighters shot down a Chinook helicopter as it flew near Fallujah. Initial reports said the helicopter was ferrying the troops to a rest-and-recuperation area. At least 20 soldiers were injured.
Army sources in Iraq and Washington confirmed Monday that the crew of the downed Chinook, though attached to the 12th Aviation Brigade from Giebelstadt, Germany, was not based in Europe. They reportedly were members of an Iowa National Guard crew flying a helicopter belonging to a unit from Peoria, Ill.
“Our heartfelt sympathy and prayers go out to the families and friends and the rest of the units of those Americans killed,” Cornum said.
Cornum would not release the units of any of the survivors, saying their families had not all been notified.
Several full-time intensive care unit doctors and specialists in orthopedics and neurology were treating the patients. Some nurses were added to the medical ward to handle the influx and some personnel on a training mission had to be called back to help, Cornum said.
“We plan for this to happen, though we hope it won’t,” she said.
The last major influx of trauma cases was after the bombing of the United Nations building in Baghdad in August, she said. Since the war started, the hospital has treated more than 7,701 injured and ill troops from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The 16 crash survivors arrived at Ramstein Air Base after midnight Sunday aboard a C-17 cargo plane. The patients were then bused to Landstuhl, where five were in the medical/surgical ward on Monday. Five of the soldiers were well enough to walk, Cornum said. Another crash victim was expected to arrive at the hospital Tuesday morning.
Doctors expected to perform surgery on several of the soldiers Monday, spokesman Dan Unger said.
Injuries included “a lot of broken bones,” and “compression-type” injuries, Cornum said. Some soldiers had head injuries, she said.
She said it was too soon to tell whether the injuries were caused by the crash or some kind of missile that may have caused the crash. An Army Safety Center team was expected to talk with the survivors at the hospital, she said.
At least two soldiers’ family members had arrived in Germany, and Cornum said there probably will be others who visit, depending on how quickly the injured are evacuated. The family members are staying at the Fisher House on the Landstuhl grounds.
Cornum said the hospital staff was “as appalled as everyone is,” about the attack, which resulted in the bloodiest day in Iraq since the week of March 23, the first week of the war.
Combat stress counselors and chaplains were at the hospital to help the patients as well as the staff deal with the tragedy.
“This is more combat trauma than anybody usually sees unless they are deployed,” said Cornum, who survived a helicopter crash and captivity during the first Gulf War. “You can be working in a downtown hospital and see this kind of thing, but it’s different when it’s people you know.”
In February 1991, Cornum, then a flight surgeon, was on board a Black Hawk rescue helicopter searching for a downed F-16 aircraft when the helicopter was shot down. Cornum and the two other survivors were captured and held as POWs by the Iraqis for two weeks before they were repatriated.
Steve Liewer contributed to this report.