May 13, 2003
With the conventional fighting over, the Army took stock of what happened to it's $20 million Apache Longbow helicopters. Takeoff or landing accidents in heavy dust destroyed or severely damaged four AH-64D Apache Longbows, including one from the 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment that crashed on takeoff on March 23. Only one (from the 1st Battalion, 277th Aviation Regiment) was lost in combat, on March 24th.
While the Apache's two pilots were taken prisoner and held by the Iraqis before being rescued April 13, American intelligence was also intent on preventing the Iraqis from handing the essentially intact helicopter over to other unfriendly parties. Apparently, the two crewmen might have been unable to sabotage critical systems onboard before they attempted to escape the crash site.
Unable to take the risk that the crew had been successful, intelligence officers were able to locate the helicopter's position from television images and vectored an aircraft to the site. The pilot could see Apache on the ground between the clouds, but couldn't get a good lock on it.
The Americans decided instead to use long-range artillery fire, but the crash site was too close to US troops and by the time they had cleared the artillery barrage with commanders in the area, the Iraqis had loaded the helicopter onto a transport truck.
For two days, US officials lost track of the Longbow while the Iraqis moved it into a gully near the Saddam International Airport and covered it with camouflage tenting. However, "someone" saw it and - possibly Special Forces teams operating in Baghdad - word got back to CENTCOM of the Longbow's new location. An Air Force jet was dispatched and the gunship was turned into a wreck with a 1,000 lb bomb. A week later, the 3rd Infantry Division took the airport and a special detail was sent to recover whatever was left of the Apache. - Adam Geibel
Photos of the Iraqis hauling off the Apache, online at: