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'Black Hawk' pilot to visit
By Jay Price
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant should be dead several times over.
Durant was the pilot of Super Six Four, one of two helicopters that gave the popular book and movie "Black Hawk Down" their name after they were shot down over Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993.
He and his crew -- members of an elite aviation unit that works on Special Operations missions -- had dropped off a group of raiding soldiers and were flying over Mogadishu, waiting for the mission to end, when a militia fighter shot a rocket-propelled grenade into their tail rotor.
Suddenly, Durant and Super Six Four were a subplot in one of the most harrowing combat stories in U.S. history: A few blocks from where they crashed, 160 Army Rangers and Delta Force operators -- including those Durant had dropped off -- battled for their lives against thousands of militia fighters who swarmed the tangled alleys and mud brick compounds of the city.
Durant and two Delta Force operators who had volunteered to drop into the crash site from a hovering helicopter to protect the crew were overrun by a mob. The Delta soldiers were killed, and Durant, who had a broken back and leg and gunshot wounds, was taken prisoner.
During the 11 days he was held captive, Durant was visited by the Red Cross, which brought medicine and made sure he was OK. The Red Cross picked him up when the Somalis released him.
Durant, now 45 and working for a contractor that built the flight simulator for the latest version of the Black Hawk, is coming to Raleigh to repay the favor. He will speak June 23 as the big draw at the 90th anniversary celebration dinner of the local American Red Cross chapter. He spoke with the N&O last week:
N&O: One of the most powerful moments in the story is after the two Delta Force operators, Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, volunteered to drop in and protect you. Pretty quickly Gordon was shot, then Shughart, and the rest of your crew was gone, too. What were you thinking when you realized two of the best soldiers in the world hadn't been able to stop the attack and you were the only one left?
DURANT: It was over. I just thought it was over. If they can't hold 'em off, who can? There was nobody else inbound that I knew of, and I'd gone from feeling a sense of relief, that it was just a routine matter to get us out, and then realizing it was over.
N&O: While you were held captive, did you have any sense of the ferocity of the battle that was going on?
DURANT: Being captured that early, I didn't realize it had grown to such intensity. Sometime, I guess approaching midnight, I distinctly recall a column of vehicles. I had the impression it was an armada, coming I thought directly at where I was being held. I was being held in this small compound. I thought they had somehow tracked me through the city and there was already a rescue attempt, naively thinking there was nothing else for them to be worried about, and they were coming to find me. As far as I knew, we hadn't lost a single person when we were shot down. That wasn't the case, but you know what you know.
N&O: What did the Red Cross mean to you?
DURANT: It was the turning point in my captivity, no doubt. Before that, the treatment was pretty harsh. The morning of the visit -- now, they seem like small things, but not when you're in that situation -- they cleaned up the room, they cleaned me up, they got me a mattress to lay on instead of laying on the concrete, they got me pajamas because I'd been half-naked the whole time. And then actually having Suzanne (Hofstadter, an International Red Cross worker) come had a tremendous emotional impact. To be able to hold her hand and see compassion in her eyes, and then be able to write a letter to my family and a letter to my comrades. ... And the big thing was, those improvements they gave me didn't go away, because the agreement was she would come back again.
N&O: You survived a firefight that no one else on your side did, an angry mob that probably came close to tearing you apart and captivity. Why are you still alive?
DURANT: I don't know. I don't let it keep me up at night, but I did things I thought were right at the time. I was lucky and I was trained as well as I could be trained, and there were a lot of people praying for me and I always thought that affected it, too.
Staff writer Jay Price can be reached at 829-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News & Observer