Two Army Black Hawk pilots responded quickly after witnessing the deadly crash this weekend of a South Korean firefighting helicopter.
Capt. Julia McKusick, 29, of Colleyville, Texas, and 1st Lt. Melissa Taylor, 25, of Topsfield, Mass., were heading north to a training exercise Saturday morning when they saw the South Korean chopper plunge into the Han River east of Seoul.
“We saw it flying pretty low,” McKusick, who was the co-pilot, told Stars and Stripes on Monday in a telephone interview. “We were actually wondering why it was so low and then we saw it impact the water.”
The Black Hawk crew hovered overhead while contacting the Seoul Air base traffic control tower, reporting the crashed helicopter’s tail number and model.
“We were able to also identify that there were two survivors,” said Taylor, who was the lead pilot. “We were really happy that we were in the right place at the right time.”
McKusick said rescue boats arrived soon after the crash, so they flew on to the field training exercise. “At that point, there were [South Korean] rescue assets inbound, so we actually wanted to make sure that we got out of the way,” she said.
McKusick added: “Helicopters don’t crash that often and to see it and be first on the scene is pretty rare, but we’re very glad we were able to at least help and get assets moving.”
The crashed helicopter — a Kamov KA-32 belonging to the Korea Forest Service — had left from Gimpo to put out a fire on a mountain and apparently fell while trying to take water from the river, according to South Korean officials.
Search crews rescued two pilots and found a mechanic suffering apparent cardiac arrest. The three were taken to a nearby hospital where the mechanic was pronounced dead.
“We do want to pass on our condolences to the crew chief and his family. We’re glad that rescue agencies were able to get there in time for the two pilots,” Taylor said.
An official with the South Korean air base, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, confirmed the Black Hawk pilots reported the crash and maintained contact with controllers until rescue crews arrived.
The crew, which included Sgt. Tereon Dorsey, 32, of College Park, Ga., and Pfc. Shane Palitza, 19, of Frisco, Texas, is assigned to the 2-2 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Black Hawks are primarily used to transport troops, but the pilots said they also train to respond in case of emergencies.
“There’s an assumed kinship between all aviators, regardless of whether they are Korean or American,” battalion commander Lt. Col. Keith Sandoval said in a statement. “I feel fortunate Capt. McKusick and 1st Lt. Taylor were there to provide such a quick response and render whatever aid they could to our fellow Korean aviators.”
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