When a Black Hawk crashed during helicopter training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, soldiers on the ground sprang into action.
The aircraft — with four members of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division — crashed into a forest on post shortly after taking off on Jan. 31.
Soldiers from C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team raced over to help their fellow soldiers after the Black Hawk landed upside down in a ravine. The fuselage was damaged, causing a fire that engulfed the helicopter in smoke and flames, according to a 101st Airborne Division news release.
The soldiers controlled the fire with water, fire extinguishers and soil and were able to remove three of the injured crew members. The fourth crewmember was freed from the burning wreckage shortly after. All four soldiers were taken to the hospital and treated.
For their actions, six soldiers from the unit were awarded the Soldier’s Medal on Tuesday, according to the news release.
Although the whole team responded to the crash, these six soldiers went above and beyond what was expected of them, officials said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley presented the medals to Staff Sgt. Beau Corder, Staff Sgt. Richard Weaver, Staff Sgt. Engel Becker, Sgt. Damon Seals, Spc. Christopher White and Pfc. Ryan Brisson.
The Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest peacetime award for valor and is awarded when a soldier’s actions involve “personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.”
“These soldiers knew they had only seconds to react as the aircraft became engulfed in flames,” Col. Derek Thomson, 1st BCT commander, said in the release. “The fact that these six individuals stuck with it no matter what, putting the lives of others ahead of their own, is extremely special.”
Corder helped rescue the fourth crew member, whose foot was pinned in between the collapsed engine and the aircraft paneling. Corder crawled into the wreckage and put out the fire that was beginning to burn the crew member’s feet. He then climbed on top of the helicopter and jumped on the paneling to break it off and free the crew member.
An explosion knocked Corder off of the Black Hawk, but he climbed back on and continued jumping until the paneling broke free and his fellow soldiers could pull the crew member from the wreckage.
“At first I tried to cut off his boots, but we saw that was going to take too long. We tried pushing on the body of the bird. That’s when the first explosion went off,” Corder said in the release. “We kept pulling on his equipment and used a truck to try and pull the engine off his legs.”
Weaver led the first four responders in rescue efforts and tied ropes together to pull out one of the trapped crew chiefs. Weaver moved through intense flames, smoke and explosions to help rescue the crew members, and he treated them once they were freed.
“By then flames had really begun to engulf the aircraft, and everyone was getting worried that we wouldn’t get the soldier out,” Weaver said. “It was very intense at that point.”
Becker coordinated with the medics and ambulance to ensure the crew members were safely transported to receive treatment, and he made sure his fellow soldiers who were helping in the rescue effort were pulled away at times to recover from smoke inhalation.
Seals helped treat two of the injured crew members and moved them away from the fire, carrying one of the crew members almost 200 feet to the ambulance. He also ensured the safety of the 1st BCT soldiers as multiple rescue vehicles moved around the crash site. Seals contributed to the rescue efforts longer than nearly every other soldier, according to the release.
“From my point of view, I remember the fire was extremely hot,” Seals said. “It was scary to see how hot it was and how close the fourth guy was. I didn’t realize just how dangerous this was until the first explosion, which knocked me to the ground.”
White was one of the first three soldiers on the scene, and he helped pull three of the crew members from the flames. He also joined the effort to rescue the fourth crew member who was trapped under the helicopter.
“The flames were the last thing on my mind. The whole time I just thought that these were my brothers in the bird and we needed to get them out,” White said.
Brisson cut free two of the crew members and crawled into the wreckage to help free one of those crew members, who was trapped. He found the right-side pilot, who was stuck upside down with his harness still on, and cut the harness with his own knife. He then cut the left-side pilot free. He also joined the group in freeing the trapped crew member.
“I just acted on instinct … I wasn’t thinking about how dangerous it was. I just thought if it was me I hope they would help get me out,” Brisson said. “I have a brother in the Army, and I hope someone would help him out in a situation like that.”