In a dramatic rescue worthy of any action movie, two Army helicopter pilots shot down south of Baghdad Monday evaded capture by their attackers and then flew to safety, one of them strapped to the side of an Apache helicopter not designed to take additional passengers.
The OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopter flown by Chief Warrant Officers Mark Burrows and Steven Cianfrini was flying a routine mission in support of ground troops when it was forced down by heavy gunfire.
Burrows and Cianfrini survived the crash landing with only minor cuts and bruises, but came under immediate ground fire as the insurgents who had shot them continued to fire on the aircraft.
Facing gunfire from both sides of the helicopter, Burrows and Cianfrini crawled into an irrigation canal next to where the helicopter had crash landed.
Both pilots were soon stuck in neck-deep water with no way to get out because gunfire continued to rain down on them from both sides of the canal.
"Personally, I thought we were done, " said Cianfrini in an interview with ABC News. Burrows said, "I thought that it would be a matter of time before all of those bullets found us."
Originally feeling helpless that they were stuck in the canal, Burrows and Cianfrini now believe "it was kind of a luck thing we got stuck because we didn't know there were attackers on the other side."
After 10 to 15 minutes of sporadic gunfire, the insurgents left the scene leaving both pilots with a sense of "amazement that you're still there."
Having already sent out a distress signal, the pilots soon heard American aircraft overhead.
Burrows made visual contact with a Kiowa helicopter from their unit that guided an Apache helicopter to their position on the ground.
Apaches are narrow two-seater attack helicopters where the pilot sits behind the co-pilot. Designed to carry missiles on its wingmounts, there is no room on the aircraft for additional passengers.
When the Apache landed, Burrows said the co-pilot got out of his front seat to make sure they weren't injured. He then strapped Cianfrini into his seat and closed the hatch.
The Apache pilot then led Burrows to the gun mount on the left side of the helicopter.
"I then sat on a ledge up against the engine and clipped in with a little safety harness strap," said Burrows. "The Apache pilot then went to the other side of the helicopter where he strapped himself in as well."
Once both pilots were safely strapped to the gun mounts, the Apache took off for a Baghdad airstrip. The Apache pilots quickly unloaded their passengers then took off again to continue with their original mission.
Gun camera video released by the Pentagon today shows the Apache in flight with one of the pilots strapped to the gun mount.
Both Burrows and Cinfriani say they were left on the tarmac waiting for an ambulance to arrive, and to reflect on what had just occurred.
"We just kind of stood there and dumbfounded that after that last half hour, 40 minutes we were actually standing in the middle of a ramp in Baghdad," said Burrows.
Both pilots are grateful for their rescue. "We're glad so many people went out of their way to ensure we got home."