Dagger Point: Major Edwards shares his experience of getting shot down

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- (Dagger Point is a multi-part series focusing on Air Commando history.)

On April 12, 2004, Maj. Steven Edwards was the flight lead of a two-ship formation of MH-53s on a resupply mission enroute to Fallujah, Iraq.

While on their way, they had to stop at a landing zone to deliver ammunition. The landing zone was occupied by other aircraft, so the crew flew back around to the south to find an alternate landing zone.

The copilot had control of the aircraft while then Captain Edwards helped out the engineer in the middle seat. Out of the corner of his eye, Major Edwards saw a bright flash of light and a puff of smoke. Before he had time to say anything, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the aircraft in its nose, knocking the bird up into an 80 degree pitch.

The RPG blasted through the windshield, wounding Major Edwards, the copilot and the flight engineer. The blast severed communications lines, destroying the instrument panel and automatic flight controls. The gaping hole rendered the aircraft nearly uncontrollable.

The helicopter started to climb and stall out. After Major Edwards realized that he was still alive, he had to regain the control of the aircraft from the copilot. He was eventually able to take the control despite the middle of the dash being gone.

Despite his injuries, a severely damaged aircraft, blacked-out conditions and unfamiliar terrain, Major Edwards, with the aid of Master Sgts. Robert Colannino and Randy Kensey, managed to crash land the aircraft in the hostile enemy territory.

The second helicopter of the flight remained in the area, took enemy fire, and eventually picked up the downed aircrew.

As a result of their heroic actions, seven men on the two aircraft received medals Dec. 16, 2005.

Major Edwards was cited for valor.

Below is an excerpt Major Edwards, now the 14th Weapons Squadron MH-53 course assistant director of operations, gave the Commando March 30.

COMMANDO: Was there a certain point where your training kicked in?

Edwards: I think right from the get-go when we first got hit — just from noticing the RPG shot. The training we get at the 19th (SOS) lets us see what stuff like that looks like. I knew immediately something had been launched at us. My assumption is it was an RPG, but we’ll never know for sure, because the aircraft was later destroyed.

After that, I just had the will to survive and the need to get the aircraft on the ground. I had to just fall back on my experience in flying and use what little I had to get the aircraft to the ground.

COMMANDO: When you realized you landed the aircraft, what was going through your head?

Edwards: Once I got on the ground I had to assess the co-pilot and engineer to see if they were alive or dead or what their status was. I tried to look under my (night vision) goggles to see if they were alive over there, and I couldn’t really see them; but I could see them moving so I knew they were alive.

I decided we needed to shut down the aircraft and get the heck out of there because they (the enemy) would be on top of us in no time. The place we got shot down from the place we landed was only about a mile, so I knew they were very close. My first thought was to get them out of the aircraft and get it shut down.

That was a problem because the throttle had been destroyed so we couldn’t shut it down up front…I got the engineer and copilot out of the front, then got the engineer in the back to come up front and help me shut the aircraft down, and it took over five
minutes for that to happen. It was a long, long time.

It seemed like eternity to get it shut down. We were able to egress the aircraft, and the other MH-53 was able to come around, pick us up and save the day.

COMMANDO: At what point did you realize you were going to make it out of there?

Edwards: My first thought was when we saw the other aircraft land was like, “Yeah, we’re OK the other aircraft’s here.”

COMMANDO: Is there any advice you’d like to share?

Edwards: The biggest thing is training is important. I know sometimes it gets mundane, especially with all the different training we have to go through as aircrew.
But, the more times you to do it the easier it will be for you to draw from your memory and use it when you need it.