KAMDESH, Afghanistan Oct. 5, 2009— -- ABC News' Karen Russo was the only reporter to get to the scene of this weekend's bloody firefight between U.S. troops and hundreds of Taliban insurgents when she went in on a MEDEVAC helicopter. Here is her report:
Flying into the besieged Afghan base during a nighttime firefight this weekend was a harrowing mix of overwhelming noise, stomach dropping maneuvers and shadows hurrying through the gloom.
When the chopper lifted off moments later with three wounded soldiers, it left behind others who were wounded but refused to be MEDEVACED out of the combat zone so they could return to fight with their buddies.
Fighting raged at two remote U.S. outpostsnear the Pakistan border this weekend, that left eight U.S. soldiers dead and 24 wounded. The battle was fought from Friday night through Sunday as hundreds of Taliban insurgents and their allies tried to overrun the Americans.
During the fighting, the insurgents succeeded in breaching the outer defense of the base at times before being repelled with the help of attack helicopters, fighter jets and drones. It was the bloodiest battle in a year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
During the fight, the MEDEVAC team at a nearby base waited - with both patience and frustration.
MEDEVAC teams are known for flying into some of the most deadly areas in the world to rescue injured soldiers. MEDEVAC helicopters are unarmed so they often need supporting aircraft to protect them, and sometimes the cover of darkness is their only defense.
On Saturday night, the team finally received the go-ahead as the sun set. Within moments of receiving the call, we rushed to the helicopter and quickly sped to the outposts.
As we were flying into the attack space, the MEDEVAC team with one medic and a doctor were preparing for the oncoming patients, setting up IV's, pulling out medical equipment and making other last minute preparations.
Apache helicopter gunships escorted us as we neared the combat zone to ensure our safety as we hovered at 10,000 feet awaiting word to descend. When word came, we plummeted in a corkscrew manner, making the descent in a matter of seconds, landing in a valley at the bottom of steep mountains. It felt very vulnerable to attack.
One of the pilots said that even though he had night vision goggles and ordinarily he can see in that sort of situation, because the fighting was intense there was so much smoke it was actually fogged over and it was difficult for him to see. Fortunately he could make out the landing zone, but it was touch and go.
Doctors in MEDEVAC Chopper Work By Touch
Once on the ground, I hopped out of the chopper, but could see little other than smoke wafting through the moonlight, likely from a fire that was burning much of the base. Then I could make out the shadows of soldiers as they carried the wounded towards the helicopter.
Any noise of the conflict was drowned out by the propellers of the helicopter. The area smelled of burned out pine trees something one solider described as "death and hell."
Three wounded soldiers, one U.S. and two Afghan, were carried down the steep incline and quickly placed on the helicopter.
Some of the injured refused to be MEDEVACED out of the combat zone and continued to fight despite their wounds, according to soldiers at the base. Soldiers told the MEDEVAC crew that troops were donating blood during the battle, so it could be transfused into wounded comrades.
Between the gloom of night and the smoke, it was too dark to see much and the roar of the chopper made it almost impossible to hear commands.
I was quickly sort of touched by a crew member to get on the flight. I hopped on and even before I was on, the medical team was already working on the wounded.
Doctors wore night vision goggles, but still found it difficult to see. One doctor said it was like working by touch.
We were on the ground for a little more than five minutes, but in the chaos of noise and darkness, it felt like it could have been anything from 30 seconds to 30 minutes.
Moments later, the chopper lifted into the air and flew to the nearest medical facility. Despite the heroism of the crew, one of the soldiers died after reaching the facility. It wasn't immediately announced whether the soldier who died was American or Afghan.