April 27, 2011
It’s summer 2005. In Afghanistan, a four-man U.S. Navy SEAL team has been ambushed by the Taliban. A Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter is immediately sent to extract them, but as it approaches the rescue site, the Taliban fire a rocket-propelled grenade, hitting the Chinook’s fuel tanks. All 16 crew members on board are killed. The Navy SEALs turn to the Air Force 920th Rescue Wing and their Pave Hawk helicopters for help.
So begins “The Taliban Gambit,” an installment in the Smithsonian Channel’s four-part series Helicopter Missions.
The men of the 920th Rescue Wing are remarkably candid. Initially, Special Ops and the Rescue Wing are skeptical about the others’ ability: “I think they [the SEALs] look down on us, question our training, our crews, our capability,” says pilot Lieutenant Colonel Jeff “Spanky” Peterson.
“[The SEALs are] a very proud community that doesn’t like to ask for help from outsiders. So the initial reception was—I was a little bit cold,” recalls Colonel Jeff “Skinny” Macrander, commander of the rescue wing.
But Macrander convinces the SEALs that his team can do the job. They search for two nights, a faint clicking on the emergency frequency suggesting that survivors are trying to make contact. When the rescue wing finally locates their man, they learn their landing zone is a tiny shelf hacked from the side of the mountain.
“In setting up for the landing,” says Peterson, “I thought ‘This is all going to work.’ And then it all went south in a hurry.”
Did the 920th Rescue Wing save the day? Tune in to the Smithsonian Channel on Demand to find out. Watch a sneak peek of the program, below.
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