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Ryan Chilcote: First deep attack

CNN's Ryan Chilcote with CWO Jeff Wellington
CNN's Ryan Chilcote with CWO Jeff Wellington

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CNN's Ryan Chilcote talks to Lt. Col. Steve Smith, commander of the 2nd Battalion about using his Apache helicopters to attack the Republican Guard south of Baghdad. (March 29)
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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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(CNN) -- The pilots of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne pulled an all-nighter Friday completing their first deep attack -- using Apache helicopters against a Republican Guard unit, southwest of Baghdad. CNN Correspondent Ryan Chilcote, embedded with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade, discussed the mission with Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Wellington.

CHILCOTE: It was a mission not without mishaps. Two helicopters on that mission completely destroyed.

Right here on the flight line in crash landings, the helicopters landing in what are called brown-out conditions, meaning the dust on the desert floor rises up and engulfs the helicopter and it is very difficult for the pilot to see the ground in those conditions and very easy to mess up the landing.

That is what appears to have happened. Both those pilots rolling their helicopters, (a) very dangerous situation. Of the four pilots, only one was Injured with a broken leg.

So a really miraculous outcome to what could have been a very, very unfortunate accident. Obviously, flying attack helicopters in Iraq, is a very dangerous business. Two pilots, one in an Apache (that was) shot down on that mission by small arms fire, are now believed to be held inside iraq as POWs. A little cater at exactly how dangerous this business is.

With me, I have one of the pilots that flew the mission. He will tell us a little bit about what happened. First there were two mishaps. The two helicopters with the crash landings. Apparently, brownout was a factor in both (of) those (incidents). What's going through your mind when that's happening?

WELLINGTON: You know, the mission's over. You don't want to get into a relaxed mode at that point, you still want to maintain focus. Until you're physically on the ground, flat pitch, power level's back at idle it can actually take a deep breath and, you know, feel pretty confident everything's over.

CHILCOTE: The pilots are OK. Three of the four, no problems at all. One broke his leg. That's a pretty good outcome?

WELLINGTON: Oh, absolutely. We're very thankful they're OK. For their family members, just -- they're doing fine and their spirits are high and they'll be back in the fight in no time.

CHILCOTE: Tell me about what you saw on the mission.

WELLINGTON: Immediately upon arrival in the target area, we came in contact with the remnants of the Republican Guard. They had suffered several nights of air strikes and we immediately started to engage targets upon arrival, spent about two hours in the target area and returned back to base.

CHILCOTE: Were you taking fire? What did it look like? Did it look like they were hiding? You think they expected you were coming?

WELLINGTON: They were in several defensive positions along the -- certain terrain features. We took some small arms, occasional artillery rounds from northeast of our position. No surface-to-air missiles were fired. But very little resistance at that point.

CHILCOTE: You told me your wife was also flying on that mission. That must be a pretty interesting feeling, being up there knowing your wife also is up in one of those helicopters.

WELLINGTON: I try not to think about it. I try to stay focused on my task at hand. She's a very competent pilot. I feel good about what she's doing. She feels good about what she's doing. I know she's a very good pilot and she knows what she's doing out there so I'm really not too worried about it. Her battalion went out about 30 minutes after us and finished up the attack.

CHILCOTE: Today, the 101st pilots resting up after what they call a very successful mission. They destroyed several APCs, several tanks and several pilots reported that they may have killed some iraqi soldiers on that mission southwest of Baghdad.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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