Navy helicopters carrying Air Force pararescuemen carried out a combat search and rescue mission for an Army reconnaissance plane that made a hard emergency landing in Iraq on Saturday, securing the site and providing some medical aid to those involved, the Navy’s top admiral said Tuesday.
The mission was launched from the city of Irbil in northern Iraq, the Navy’s chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson, said in a phone interview. He was returning from a trip to the Middle East that included stops in Bahrain, Iraq and Qatar.
“It just so happened that there was a rescue mission this past Saturday, where they got the call to help out the crew from a downed aircraft,” Richardson said. “All that training paid off. They were up, airborne and at the location of the accident within four minutes of the alert. That was pretty good timing.”
Richardson said the first priority was to get the crew out of the aircraft, and then to secure a perimeter. As noted in a Checkpoint piece Saturday, the plane had the tail number N6351V, which is registered to the U.S. Army, according to an online register run by the Federal Aviation Administration. A military document posted online suggests the small plane is outfitted with advanced sensors that are part of the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, or EMARSS.
The U.S. military said in a statement that the plane conducted an “off-airport emergency landing in a field northwest of Irbil.” Richardson said the helicopters that responded are part of a detachment based in Irbil that is from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 5, of Naval Station Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Other parts of the squadron are with the USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier that is currently deployed off the coast of Iraq in the Persian Gulf.
Four people were on board the downed aircraft, and none was seriously injured, U.S. military officials said. But the mission highlights the unpredictability of flying military missions over a country in which few U.S. ground troops are deployed. The United States moved additional combat search and rescue teams into northern Iraq last year, after a Jordanian fighter pilot’s jet crashed and he was subsequently captured, tortured and killed by Islamic State militants.
Richardson also said Tuesday that the investigation of 10 U.S. sailors who were detained by Iranian forces in January has moved into the review phase, meaning all initial interviews have been completed. They were taken for about 24 hours beginning Jan. 12 in the Persian Gulf off Iran’s Farsi Island as they were traveling in two riverine command boats from Kuwait to Bahrain.
“I got a chance to take a look at the craft, which are there in Bahrain,” Richardson said. “But as far as the investigation, it is still early in the review process.”
The admiral said it is believed that a navigation error brought the sailors into Iranian territorial waters, but does not appear that anything was wrong with the GPS or other equipment aboard the boats, he said.
“We’ve got to let the review process for the investigation play out,” the admiral said. “You know, it’s complicated. I think it was hundreds of interviews involved and literally it got around the world, from San Diego to Bahrain and a lot of places in between. It’s a big effort, and it’s going to take some thoughtful review, and there will probably be some follow-up questions before we are ready to talk about it.”