Stealth Black Hawk crash landing in Abbottabad could be (alarmingly) similar to a tail strike episode occurred to 160th SOAR in Iraq

Take a look at the following screenshots taken from a Youtube video taken with a helmet-mounted camera by US Special Forces (Delta Force’s A Sqn) rescuing Italian and Polish contractors from a hideout in Iraq with the help, once again of the 160th SOAR, on Jun. 8, 2004.

The first thing  I thought when I saw the footage is that sometimes history repeats itself.

Here the full video. The impact is clearly visible at mins 1.23 and 1.49:

Contractors had been abducted in Baghdad on Apr. 13, 2004 along with another Italian citizen, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who was killed by kidnappers on Apr. 14.
A daring rescue operation was put into action as soon as coalition forces gathered reliable information on the location where the hostages were being held. As the footage shows, the 4 MH-60s (using c/s “Prince 61 – 64”) along with 4 escorting AH-6s (“Granite 71 – 74”) flew  over Baghdad then approached fast and low the compound where the workers were held.
While the third MH-60K (“Prince 63”) was flaring before touch down (with a dust cloud raised by the preceeding choppers) it hit the comp0und’s wall with its tail rotor beam/stabilizer. Fortunately, unlike what happened in Afghanistan during Operation Neptune’s Spear, the Black Hawk did not break apart and it was able to land allowing the SOF operators to leap out and to rescue hostages. The operation was successful (as the OBL raid was) and the helicopter was (probably) able to return to its base (the video doesn’t show this phase so we can’t be completely sure it didn’t suffer some structural damage).

Anyway, what happened during the 2004 rescue in daylight conditions, seems like a confirmation to what I’ve already suggested yesterday (pt1) describing the possible root causes of the crash landing of the Stealth Black Hawk during the OBL raid: the helicopter might have hit the compound’s wall on fast approach for landing at night with NVG in a particularly long and exhausting mission. A lesson to be learned for future special ops involving low level approaches to compounds surrounded by walls?

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I think it’s not just the low level approach that contributes, but also the ‘flaring’ maneuver used by the 160th to rapidly bleed forward velocity. Combined with the dust, effect of the wall (as you described in your previous post) and the extra weight of the modified aircraft (bearing a few extra men than the ‘standard’ load, but many fewer than the maximum suggested for the H-60 series, especially with more modern engines) could have combined (with a modest temperature differential) to cause the loss of lift and a collision with the wall.

    The flare movement is also apparent in some available videos ( demonstrating SOF fast-roping techniques, where the helicopter transitions from fairly fast forward movement to a stable hover (forward v=0) for the few seconds necessary for the men to to exit, and the helicopter thereafter continues at a relatively quick forward pace, minimizing the appearance of having stopped at all. Extra weight, a very small landing zone and a mis-estimation of the distance from the tall wall could lead to the tail strikes you describe.

  2. From the Associated Press article:
    “The Black Hawks were to drop the SEALs and depart in less than two minutes, in hopes locals would assume they were Pakistani aircraft visiting the nearby military academy.

    One Black Hawk was to hover above the compound, with SEALs sliding down ropes into the open courtyard.

    The second was to hover above the roof to drop SEALs there, then land more SEALs outside — plus an interpreter and the dog, who would track anyone who tried to escape and to alert SEALs to any approaching Pakistani security forces.”

    There was no landing planned inside the compound…all the landing should take place outside the compound.

    • To be honest, I don’t think AP or Reuters or any other Media was given the exact details of the OBL raid. Furthermore, previous ops have shown that UH-60 usually land because they are also less vulnerable on the ground than during hovering.
      Furthermore, if they sent 8 helos to rescue 3 or 4 contractors in Iraq I believe they sent a few more after OBL….

  3. I think then we can suggest everything…if all the information of the media is labelled as false or incorrect (even on purpose). They also use sources who are telling more then they are allowed too…and many details seem to be logical when looking at the goal of the operation and the compound and time the operation was conducted. Landing their inside the compound looks very hazardous to me. Hovering and dropping troops by ropes seems to me the best way.

    Secondly when you would be right that would mean the special forces did not learn anything from this mistake during the operation in Iraq. I doubt that strongly seeing how well they performed the OBL operation…even when loosing one helicopter and by that forced to change their plan of attack on the spot.

    What the video of the mistake in Iraq shows is the strong effect of the dust and other helicopters over the compound. I can image this influenced the OBL raid too. Maybe even garbage ready to be burned…or maybe AQ had designed some ways to hinder helicopters…

    So for the moment I see no reason to doubt the “official” (leaked) version.

    • Hi Ronald,
      dealing with the information of media, being a part of it, I don’t believe it is always false or incorrect. I can’t but notice that being based on speculations, experts’ guesses etc, special ops tend to have a considerable amount of inaccuracy.

      Yes, maybe landing was hazardaous but sometimes it is used to prevent exposing the helo too much. Furthermore, the ops in Iraq show that they land when needed so I assume it is not as weird as one might think.

      Dealing with the repeating mistakes, aviation safety shows that, unfortunately, human errors tend to repeat themselves….If you search inside my blog I have posted some articles to explain this concept.

      I’m not trying to convince you that I’m right ; just wanted to explain my ideas.

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