May 24, 2011 -- The wreckage of the secret stealth helicopter that was abandoned by U.S. Navy SEALs during the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is back in U.S. government hands, a Pentagon official said today.
The Pakistani government, which has held on to the remains of what experts believed to a highly modified Blackhawk helicopter since the May 2 raid, returned "what's left of the whole thing" including a large tail section to U.S. officials over the weekend, said Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. The helicopter is being held in an undisclosed location.
The helicopter made a hard landing after it clipped a wall during the mission to kill bin Laden and was abandoned by the SEALs, but not before the special operations team attempted to destroy it with explosives. In the days after the raid, the tail section and other pieces of debris -- including a mysterious cloth-like covering that the local children found entertaining to play with -- were photographed being hauled away from the crash site by tractor.
Aviation experts said the unusual configuration of the rear rotor, the curious hub-cap like housing around it and the general shape of the bird are all clues the helicopter was highly modified to not only be quiet, but to have as small a radar signature as possible.
In the days after the raid, U.S. officials asked for the helicopters return, but Pakistani officials said they were interested in studying it and suggested the Chinese were interested as well. One Pakistani official told ABC News earlier this month, "We might let them [the Chinese] take a look."
A U.S. official said then he did not know if the Pakistanis had offered a peek to the Chinese, but said he would be "shocked" if the Chinese hadn't already been given access to the damaged aircraft. Lapan did not say whether or not there is evidence the Chinese had been allowed to see the pieces of the helicopter before it was returned to the U.S.
The Chinese and Pakistani governments are known to have a close relationship. Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani traveled to Beijing and was greeted warmly by the Chinese with a deal from from Chinese government to provide Pakistan with 50 fighter jets.
The Department of Defense has not officially commented on the nature of the aircraft and a senior Pentagon official told ABC News in the days after the raid the Department would "absolutely not" discuss it.