Tuesday, July 03, 2007

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Western New York Pilot Rescued in Iraq
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A Western New York native is one of two U.S. Army pilots who were rescued Monday in Iraq. Steven Cianfrini and his copilot were able to elude insurgents firing all around them while they waited for rescue.
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A Western New York native is one of two U.S. Army pilots who were rescued Monday in Iraq.

Steven Cianfrini and Mark Burrows were shot down by insurgents about 30 miles south of Baghdad, in the area that has come to be known as the "Triangle of Death."

Steven detailed all of the dramatic events through text messages to his father, Oakfield Mayor Ray Cianfrini.

According to the messages, the attack started with small fire, then escalated into their Kiowa helicopter taking machine gun fire.

"I happened to look at just the right moment inside cockpit and saw .50 cal round go right between me and copilot into our avoinics/dashboard and explode," Steven wrote.

They survived a crash landing in which the helicopter flipped over. Still under fire, Steven and his copilot ran for a nearby canal, and submerged themselves up to their mouths.

"Surprisingly I stayed fairly calm in swamp. No sure exactly why. Honestly just expected one to the head at any moment," Steven wrote.

Somehow, they were not hit and were able to radio for help, which arrived within minutes in the form of multiple helicopters and two F 16's. The estimated twenty to thirty insurgents that had the American pilots surrounded fled, but the trouble didn't stop there. Cianfrini and Burrows ran for an Apache helicopter, which just seats two and already has two pilots on board. Two of the men ended up strapping themselves to the outside of the helicopter for the flight to safety.

"I'm so grateful for the timing of that rescue. He made it," said
The two were able to elude insurgents until help arrived.

They were rescued by an Apache attack helicopter, which is only built for two people. When they approached the helicopter, one rescuer relinqueshed his seat for Cianfrini.

That rescuer and Burrows road to safety outside the helicopter, on the wings of the aircraft. Video from the Defense Department shows the men strapped to the outside of the helicopter as it flies off.

Military officials say both Cianfrini and Burrows are doing fine.

Cianfrini is from Genesee County, where his father Raymond Cianfrini is the Mayor of Oakfield.

Cianfrini called his wife Jeanna after being rescued on Monday. She in turnd called Cianfrini's parents in Oakfield.

Later in the day on Monday, Cianfrini was able to contact his father through Instant Messaging. His father shared the text of their conversation, which you can read below.

On Tuesday, Cianfrini was able to speak with both of his parents over the phone.

Instant Messaging


Steve says;
Hey

Steve says;
U there?

Dad says;
Yes. It's dad

Steve says;
hey sorry you had to hear from Jeanna this morning

Dad says;
Hey, I didn't want to hear it, but it sounds like you literally dodged the bullet. How are you doing?

Steve says;
I'm good

Steve says;
Scariest day of my life

Steve says;
We flew right into their ambush

Dad says;
Sounded like a real adventure. No injuries?

Steve says;
But what happened on the ground was worse than being engaged in the air

Dad says;
How bad was it?

Steve says;
I have to tell you... we should be dead... we were engaged four times... 3 out of 4 times was heavy machine gun on my side of aircraft I was the only one to see it cuz other pilot was flying

Dad says;
The good Lord is looking after you. Say an extra prayer tonight

Steve says;
We took small fire at first... I saw tracer rounds come up through rotor blade... we turned right to get out of it... checked instruments and ourselves to see if we were hit...

Steve says;
The we turned right... I looked out my door and saw and heard in the corner of a field about 1km out a heavy machine gun open up on us... the whole side of my aircraft got hit

Steve says;
We turned right again... I looked out my door and same exact setting and scenario... the whole side of my aircraft got slammed once again

Steve says;
We turned right one more time and dropped out of altitude to get out of gun target line and angle and I happened to look at just the right moment inside cockpit and saw a .50 cal round go right in between me and copilot into our avionics/dashboard and explode

Steve says;
The aircraft was hit so bad we couldn't control it anymore he put it down as best he could be we hit really hard and aircraft flipped over... so as it stopped I got the hell out... crawled under aircraft... couldn't find my m4 so just went with m9 that was on me

Steve says;
Got out, pulled security for copilot till he got out, and the heavy machine gun had us zeroed in... we laid in a ditch but rounds were cracking over our heads and into aircraft and dirt all around us

Steve says;
There was a canal right next to us so we jumped in... it was a swamp... we got as far in as we could until we got stuck... we submerged ourselves up to our mouth and froze still back to back watching both sides of canal

Steve says;
Within 3 minutes insurgents collapsed on aircraft, had to be about 20-30 of them... they surrounded canal on all sides and started firing their weapons into it trying to hit us... they were only 15 ft away from us...

Steve says;
Then a vehicle came with heavy machine gun in back and they fired with that at point blank range at us, rounds hitting feet away from me, crackling over my head, but we never moved just stayed still

Steve says;
Then my copilot got his CSEL radio out and sent out a signal and within 3 minutes UAV was overhead and about 5 minutes later 4 Apaches showed up and 2 Kiowas, and 2 F16's... don't think insurgents wanted anything to do with that... a Kiowas landed next to aircraft but we thought it was a vehicle so we stayed tight

Steve says;
Then an Apache landed on other side of canal... we climbed out of canal, ran to aircraft... the front seater of Apache got out put me in front seat and himself and copilot self extracted on the wings of the Apache and they flew us back to hospital on base.

Steve says;
That's about it... then we had debriefs with colonels and majors... and seemed like everyone for about 7 hours

Dad says;
Wow! It reads like something out of a war novel. You were blessed on this one, Steve.

Steve says;
You may not want to tell this story to mom though

Dad says;
How are you doing emotionally? I won't go into detail with Mom. She only needs to know you're safe. Will you be flying again soon?

Steve says;
I know... some higher being was looking over us

Dad says;
You kept your head under fire. I'm proud of how you handled it. What next?

Steve says;
Emotionally I'm fine... but every now and then I keep having not so much flashbacks but I can still hear the guns... it's just going to take time... our Squadron Commander asked how I was doing and I just told him that I'm ok and all but the time in the swamp kinda messed me up a little... he understood... I told him I just wanted to take some time off from flying for a bit... he said that won't be a problem

Steve says;
Surprisingly, I stayed fairly calm in swamp not exactly sure why... honestly just expected one to the head at any moment

Dad says;
Make sure you are ready when you go back. Mike and I were talking this morning and we both remembered what the new soldiers in the Civil War said after their first battle. "We saw the elephant." Well, it sounds like you "saw the elephant"

Steve says;
My copilot had his red dot on the forehead of insurgent but didn't shoot cuz they didn't know where we were and if he shot it was all over

Steve says;
I'll be ready when I decide to go up again... our wingman took heavy fire too trying to cover us... their rocket launcher got hit and started on fire… they jettisoned it and as it fell to the ground it blew up then left seater took a round so close to his head to cut his earphone in half and broke into little pieces sticking in right seaters neck… the bullet continued on and blew out their windshield

Steve says;
I wanted you and mom to know first thing this morning before the media cuz my helmet and riffle were left in aircraft have my name on them and figured the insurgents would claim they killed me and copilot and broadcast it on Tel Aviv

Steve says;
So I didn't want you to think the worse

Steve says;
The Colonel thought it a good idea too so he let me use his phone

Steve says;
To call Jeanna this morning

Dad says;
Steve, I can't tell you how relieved I am that you survived. It had to be hell. Do you want any others to know about this? I would like to tell people, but won't if you don't want me to.

Steve says;
I'd be shocked if it's not in the news soon... being a helicopter shoot down and all

Steve says;
Tell whoever you want... just happy to be alive

Steve says;
This earns me, I believe, the Broken Wing award... so instead of wearing normal wings I get ones that are broken... very hard to earn... has to be a combat shoot down and survive... not that it's a good thing but

Dad says;
Well, buddy, you've got a story for your children and grandchildren. Stay healthy, physically and mentally. I'm thinking of you all the time. I'm sure Jeanna wants to communicate with you, but I can't tell you how much I appreciate having got your story. You're my hero!

Steve says;
Mom didn't have a heart attack when you told her did she

Dad says;
Steve, I haven't told her yet. I knew it

Steve says;
Well just tell her we were shot down and rescued and no one was hurt

Steve says;
You can give details later

Dad says;
Mom was at work when Jeanna called and I didn't want to ruin her day, and as long as Jeanna said you were safe, I figured I'd wait and tell her when she got home.

Steve says;
The Apache's and A-10 Warthog blew the aircraft up about 4 hours later with a hellfire and bombs... I have pics of it... the helicopter took around 40-50 rounds through it before we crashed

Steve says;
k... and I'll try to get a hold of the two of you tomorrow when you're both home

Dad says;
Say an extra prayer tonight. We love you. STAY SAFE! Wait to hear from you again.