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Marines with the Helicopter Support Team prepare to hook the immobilized UH-60 Blackhawk to the CH-53E Super Stallion hovering over them in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, Sept. 27. The Blackhawk was disabled earlier in the week upon landing during a routine training mission. It was successfully recovered by Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). The Helicopter Support Team is with Combat Logistics Company 111, Combat Logistics Battalion 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

Photo by Cpl. James B. Hoke

HMH-361 heavy lifts Blackhawk in successful recovery effort

28 Sep 2006 | Cpl. James B. Hoke

The Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 conducted a heavy lift operation to recover a disabled UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, Sept. 27.

The Blackhawk was disabled upon landing during a routine training mission earlier in the week.

Flying two CH-53E Super Stallions to the site, HMH-361 unloaded Marines with the Helicopter Support Team, Combat Logistics Company 111, Combat Logistics Battalion 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), who rigged the Blackhawk for pick up.

"This was the easiest and most effective means of getting the helicopter back in one piece without going through extremely strenuous things," said Cpl. Daniel L. Chewey, crew chief, HMH-361, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).

After the recovery team reached the immobile aircraft and rigged it with straps, one of the two patrolling Super Stallion helicopters swooped in to connect to the Blackhawk.

"There are a lot of complications with a heavy lift," said Maj. Andrew P. Albano, CH-53E pilot, HMH-361. "This was a complex lift. The first time we applied tension, the cable that stabilized the aircraft we were picking up snapped.

"When it snapped, an immediate response from the crew members was required to halt the helicopter and drop the load," the 33-year-old Omaha, Neb., native added. "If not, our helicopter could have lost its center of gravity. There is a lot of stuff going on. It's the one mission that requires the expertise of a spectrum of people."

After the first attempt to lift the Blackhawk was aborted, the harnesses and straps on the UH-60 were replaced for a second try.

"The second time, there was a strap rubbing on part of the aircraft, so they didn't want to lift it up and have a potential breakage in mid-flight," said Lance Cpl. Anthony D. Garner, crew chief, HMH-361.

The third time was the charm, as the lead CH-53 managed to hook to the Blackhawk, lift it into the air and take it back to base. Meanwhile, the second Super Stallion turned back to pick up the Helicopter Support Team.

"To me, the best part of it is the thrill of a successful lift," said Chewey, a 23-year-old from Stilwell, Okla. "We remained flexible and adaptable, considering the issues. The Marines were pretty locked on. They got the mission accomplished, and I'd say, we did a pretty good job."

"Today's mission was a capstone mission for us," said Albano, a graduate of Creighton University. "It's what we are advertised to do as a heavy lift platform. We had every element that we practice come into play here. It's an instant gratification for everyone involved. Everyone gets to feel good about the part they play, because it is very visible. We recovered the helicopter."

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing