Account of an Army helicopter pilot that rescued a downed aircrew. http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/1004/30apache.html Apache pilot recommended for medal Captain led risky mission to rescue downed fliers Associated Press Published on: 10/30/04 TAJI, Iraq â An Army helicopter gunship pilot is being recommended for a bravery medal for the rescue of a pair of wounded American fliers whose helicopter crashed in hostile territory south of Baghdad this month. Capt. Ryan Welch, 29, who co-pilots an AH-64 Apache helicopter with the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade, led a risky night mission that saw him strap himself and a wounded flier to the exterior of the two-seat gunship that flew them to safety, said 4th Brigade commander Col. Jim McConville. Two Army pilots were killed in the Oct. 16 crash, which happened when two Army OH-58 D Kiowa helicopters collided and plummeted to a farm field just south of Baghdad's airport. Welch, of Lebanon, N.H., said he helped rescue the wounded pair by hoisting one semiconscious man into the front seat of the Apache, and strapping the second pilot, also wounded and in shock, to the outside of the helicopter's body. Welch said he then strapped himself to the helicopter's exterior, and the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Taylor, flew the Apache about 15 miles to an Army combat support hospital. McConville, 45, of Quincy, Mass., said another pair of Taji-based Army fliers also are being considered for medals for their role in the Aug. 8 rescue of two other Kiowa pilots whose craft was downed during pitched fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City. Those fliers, CW3 Steve Wells, 38, of Lampasas, Texas, and CW2 Jamie Stepan, 31, of Killeen, Texas, fired rockets that fended off a hostile crowd and killed Shiite fighters converging on the upturned helicopter, after it was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. "It took an RPG to the tail boom, spun around and landed upside down," McConville said of the downed Kiowa. The rescuing pilots landed their Kiowa chopper on a street adjacent to the crash site â taking fire as they did â in an attempt to rescue the downed fliers. The two men ended up running off being rescued by nearby U.S. ground troops, also with the 1st Cavalry Division, McConville said. None of the medals has been awarded yet. The Army is still investigating whether hostile fire was involved in the Oct. 16 collision that killed pilots Capt. Chris Johnson, 29, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., and CW3 William Brennan, 37, of Bethlehem, Conn. Those injured were CW2 Chad Beck of Killeen, Texas, and CW2 Greg Crowe of Florence, Ky. Beck and Crowe are currently on leave, McConville said. Welch, interviewed in a repair hangar on this base 12 miles north of Baghdad, said he and Taylor picked up a distress call as they flew over south Baghdad in search of insurgents teams that fire nightly mortar and rocket barrages at U.S. bases. "We heard a distressed voice on the air, it said 'I've got two helicopters down. Two KIA,'" Welch said. The voice belonged to Beck, who made the call from his emergency radio and had triggered the rescue beacon on his flight vest, after he and Crowe walked away from the burning wreckage of their Kiowa. The surrounding farmland is a frequent launch site for insurgents' mortar attacks on Baghdad International Airport. Welch and Taylor, 28, of Lodi, Calif., found the burning helicopter and circled the wreckage. The emergency radio crackled again: "Hey you just overflew me. Can you see my strobe?" It was Beck again, and Welch said he looked out the window and saw a blinking light about 100 yards from the burning helicopter. Welch and Taylor landed in an adjacent field and radioed to Beck to meet them at the landing zone. Beck radioed back that Crowe was too hurt to walk. So Welch dashed to the crash site and found the two crash victims. The dead pilots lay nearby, in their crashed Kiowa. Crowe was sitting in a daze, waving a pistol, not talking. Beck was standing quietly, staring off into the distance. "They were both in the early stages of shock," Welch said. "Their eyes were glazed over. Their faces were bleeding profusely." Welch said he and Beck were able to help Crowe to the Apache and hoist him into the front pilot's seat. But as a two-seater, the only way to carry passengers on an Apache is to seat them on an exterior fender-like protuberance and strap them to a handhold. Welch strapped Beck to one side and himself to the other, Taylor lifted off and the two Apaches flew to Camp Ferrin-Huggins, seeing the headlights of U.S. ground troops that collected the dead pilots and the wrecked helicopters. Welch described the ride as "like driving a motorcycle 90 mph without a helmet." "It felt like my nostrils were going to tear," he said.