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Aviators recognized for Egypt crash mission

Army News Service

Release Date: 1/21/2004

By Sgt. 1st Class Rhonda Lawson

SINAI, Egypt (Army News Service, Jan. 21, 2004) -- Six members of Aviation Company, 1st U.S. Army Support Battalion, were awarded Army Achievement Medals for their rescue efforts following the crash of Flash Airlines Flight FSH604 on the morning of Jan. 3.

The awards came as a surprise to the team, who is currently serving on the South Sinai Peninsula in support of the Multinational Force and Observers. They had responded to the crash site just minutes after the aircraft crashed into the Red Sea in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, only a few nautical miles from the camp.

"I didn't expect to get anything at all," said Staff Sgt. Bobby Brown, crew chief. "We were doing our jobs -- this is what we're here for."

The plane had crashed just before 5 a.m., killing all 148 people on board. Most of them were French tourists who were returning to Paris. The team, which happened to be on call that night, received pages early that morning that they should be ready for a possible search and rescue mission.

"By 5:20, everyone had been notified and was in the office," Brown said.

Sgt. Jarrett Nielsen, the team's flight medic, had also grabbed his swim fins and diving mask.

"I was ready to go in if I had to," he said.

Once they received the order to launch, they loaded into their UH-1H helicopter and flew to the crash scene. Warrant Officer 1 Thomas Hamilton, co-pilot, was the first to spot the wreckage.

"It looked like an oil slick about a mile long," he said. "There was a lot of trash and floating debris."

The team flew around the site for nearly three hours searching for survivors by performing a "box search," in which they flew around the site's outer perimeter. They also kept in touch with their flight operations NCO, Staff Sgt. Lavaughn Steward, who kept in constant contact with the team's aviation liaison officer, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ian Davis.

"Our phone rang constantly for two hours that morning," Steward said. "But throughout the whole ordeal, everyone maintained their professionalism. We didn't get overexcited, and we didn't panic - we did what we were trained to do."

Davis, in turn, contacted the MFO's Coastal Patrol Unit, which is manned by the Italian Navy.

"They had the worst part of the job because they're the ones who actually pulled the bodies out of the water," Nielsen said.

They then returned to camp for refueling, but were instructed not to go back to the scene because the Egyptian Aviation Ministry had taken over. Since that time, the MFO's involvement in the crash search and rescue efforts had been minimal. In fact, some members of the team had thought they were forgotten until 1st Spt. Bn. Commander, Lt. Col. Corey Gipson, and Aviation Company Commander Maj. Robert Peden visited the platoon January 18, armed with awards.

"This is the best reaction force in the South Sinai, if not the entire Sinai," Gipson said during the award ceremony. "If you could have done something, you were ready to do it."

"I would rather have found survivors, than get an award," Brown said." But it's nice to have been recognized.

(Editor's note: Sgt. 1st Class Rhonda Lawson is assigned to Task Force Sinai Public Affairs.)

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