NBC's Brian Williams apologized on Wednesday for telling a false story about being in a helicopter in Iraq that came under heavy fire, but his apology was filled with nearly as many false details and misleading statements as his initial lie.
Stars and Stripes talked to soldiers who were there for the incident Williams claimed to be a part of, and they claim that the narrative told in the apology was also far removed from reality.
Williams, for example, said in his apology that although he was not on the helicopter that took fire, he was "on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG."
This is far from the truth, according to soldiers who spoke with Stars and Stripes. Army flight crews say that Williams "was actually flying with a different helicopter company altogether—in a different direction, and linked to the attacked unit by radio only."
"I think it is misleading" for Williams to say his aircraft was following behind the Chinook hit by two rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, said David Luke, a retired soldier from Texas who was a flight engineer with a company of the helicopters under the 159th Aviation Regiment, which was known as Hercules and based out of Savannah, Ga. […]
Luke said his formation of three Chinooks was carrying Williams and his NBC crew back toward Kuwait when they spotted a white Iraqi pickup truck, which stopped to watch the aircraft. They flew past quickly and continued on.
Soon after, Luke’s formation passed another company of Chinooks based out of Germany known as Big Windy heading in the opposite direction toward Baghdad, he said.
Luke’s Hercules Chinooks, carrying Williams and the NBC crew, soon heard over the radio that the Big Windy company they had passed came under fire from the pickup truck, he said.
NBC crews with Williams at the time actually placed a microphone in one of the headsets to obtain recordings that were later aired of correspondence with the Chinook company that actually came under fire, according to Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, a flight engineer who was part of the helicopter formation that was actually carrying Williams.
The soldiers say that the helicopter carrying Williams was forced to land for reasons unrelated to the attack—a sandstorm forced them to change course and land. The base they landed at happened to be the same base that the helicopter that came under fire landed at, which is how Williams was able to talk with soldiers who were actually part of it.
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was a flight engineer on the Chinook carrying NBC, said the TV news crew placed a microphone in one of the helicopter’s headsets and later broadcast clips of the radio reports from the Chinook company that was attacked.
Luke’s unit then ran into an approaching sandstorm that forced them to change course and return north in an attempt to find a safe haven at the forward operating base Rams, a Spartan and hastily set-up post to the south of Baghdad, Luke said.
The unit found the rocket-damaged Chinook parked at an airstrip just outside Rams. Crew members on that aircraft said Williams came off his helicopter and approached them to ask about the attack.