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Silhouetted by the setting sun, Marines keep watch next to a humvee during a mission to recover a disabled CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, Sept. 8. The helicopter belonging to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), was successfully returned by a Marine Wing Support Squadrons 273 and 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, recovery team to Al Asad, Iraq, Sept. 9 after it made a hard landing in Western Iraq Sept. 7.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

Heavy helicopter recovery mission successful in Al Anbar

20 Sep 2006 | Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

Marines and sailors with Marine Wing Support Squadrons 273 and 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), successfully recovered a disabled CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter from a hard landing location in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, Sept. 9.

The helicopter belonging to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, was disabled in a hard landing Sept. 7, and within a few hours, the mission to recover it was planned.

Having been in Iraq just weeks, the Marines and sailors with MWSS-273 were assigned the unprecedented job of recovering the massive helicopter and transporting it back to Al Asad.

"I've been here two weeks and never expected this," said Seaman Dominic K. Christofek, a corpsman with MWSS-273 and Cleveland native. "I was excited to be going outside the wire to do something great like recovering a helicopter. You don't hear about that happening too much."

Leaving Al Asad Sept. 8 in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles, the Sweathogs began their long, hot drive to the landing zone.

Two things were a constant for the Marines and sailors during the haul across the Iraqi desert -- hydration and a watchful eye for possible threats.

Despite traveling roads littered with signs of previously blown IEDs, the convoy reached a rally point near the helicopter's location without incident.

Upon arrival, the support squadrons set up a protective perimeter, and as the sun slowly fell, turning the western sky a bright orange, a team of Marines moved to the helicopter to assess how they would bring it back.

Throughout the night, as the perimeter Marines swept the surrounding landscape for threats, the assessment team cut the main rotor blades and tail from the massive aircraft before using a crane to place it atop an oversized trailer for transport.

With the 24,000 pound, 73 foot-long helicopter dwarfing the vehicle carrying it, the convoy set off to return to Al Asad.

Less than 36 hours after departing on a mission never performed before, the jubilant Marines and sailors returned to their squadron compound having written themselves into the Marine Corps training manual on how to recover a disabled helicopter by land.

"The recovery effort was successful largely in part to the staff (non-commissioned officers) and sergeants who were on the mission," said Col. Michael G. Dana, commanding officer, MWSG-37, and an Oneida, N.Y., native. "Their experience and knowledge was instrumental to the safe recovery of the aircraft. Due to their efforts, we were able to bring the aircraft back to base with no impact on the local population"
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing