In December 2013, American troops aborted a rescue mission in South Sudan. Now, the U.S. Air Force finally has released additional details about the ill-fated operation.
They’re pretty frightening … and impressive.
On Dec. 21, three Air Force CV-22 Ospreys carrying commandos left Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, bound for the city of Bor in South Sudan. Widespread violence in the country following an attempted coup d’etat had trapped American civilians.
At first, the Pentagon and Africa Command were vague about what happened next. An official press statement said the aircraft had come under attack by forces on the ground and four unidentified “service members” were wounded.
The unique tiltrotors landed safely in Uganda. Official spokesmen described the casualties as being “in stable condition” and said the injured had gone to Kenya for extra medical attention.
These paltry snippets of information didn’t suggest the situation had been especially serious. But now in a new official news piece, the Air Force describes a deadly serious chain of events that almost resulted in the destruction of the aircraft and the deaths of people aboard.
The operation kicked off according to plan. The CV-22s—which can fly like regular planes and land like helicopters—arrived on schedule at the United Nations compound in Bor, where the evacuees were sheltering.
The pilots from the 8th Special Operations Squadron then flew around the immediate area to check for any hostile fighters. The tiltrotors were about to land when someone attacked.
“The barrage of gunfire and RPGs from the ground hit the formation 119 times,” the 1st Special Operations Wing news report explains. In the end, all three Ospreys suffered severe damaged. Gunfire and shrapnel hit four special operators aboard the planes.
Three of the wounded troops were “in critical condition” and apparently could have died as the planes rushed to Entebbe airport in neighboring Uganda.
The injuries were so severe that medics “began drawing matching blood from personnel on board to ensure an immediate transfusion” when the aircraft touched down at Entebbe, according to the Air Force.
As if bleeding commandos weren’t bad enough, the enemy machine guns and rockets had broken the fuel lines in at least one of the aircraft. Aerial tankers—quite possibly the MC-130P Combat Shadows that also fly from Djibouti—rushed to the scene to top up the limping Ospreys’ tanks.
These harrowing details highlight the skills and quick thinking of America’s service members. The Osprey crews—now also identified by their callsigns Rooster 73, 74 and 75—will receive the 2013 Mackay Trophy for their actions.
The National Aeronautic Association presents this award to “the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons or organization.”
The flying branch picks the unit and the NAA—a non-profit that promotes all things aviation—hands out the trophy at an annual event. The association also cites “the mobile blood bank” in its official press release— and adds even more details about the operation.
The air commandos apparently had manually to run out the refueling boom on their aircraft when the tankers showed up. A hydraulic mechanism normally extends and retracts this probe.
NAA formally will recognize the crews of Rooster Flight in November.