Update: The former Chinook pilot whose interview with CNN on Thursday backed parts of Williams’ claims told the network on Friday that he is retracting his story. “The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories,” the pilot, Rich Krell, told CNN’s Brian Stelter. The network is retracting its story as well.
Original report below:
The story of Brian Williams’ March 2003 Chinook flight in Iraq took a bizarre twist Thursday when several crew members on Williams’ helicopter disputed another pilot’s claims that the aircraft fell under small arms fire.
The point of contention appears to be: who actually piloted Williams’ Chinook?
The confusion comes a day after Williams retracted a story he has told for years about the mission, in which he claimed the Chinook he and his news crew were tagging along in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“It’s just goofy,” retired Chinook pilot Chris Simeone told The Omaha World-Herald about claims made by another retired Chinook pilot, Rich Krell.
Simeone and another pilot, Allan Kelly, say that they, and not Krell, flew Williams’ Chinook on the March 23, 2003 mission and that they did not come under any ground fire.
They were responding to an an interview Krell conducted with CNN in which he claimed that he was the one who piloted Williams’ helicopter and that it and two others in their formation did indeed come under fire from Iraqi insurgents on the ground.
Krell said that bullets entered the helicopter and that gunners on the craft returned fire. He also claimed that he was flying close behind the Chinook that went down.
Those details are significant because if Williams’ helicopter was hit by ground fire and was near the one struck by an RPG, it would lend at least some credence to his explanation that he told the tall tale because he had become confused by a “fog of memory” that he claimed had developed over the 12 years since the incident.
If neither of those facts are true, it would support the claim that Williams lied.
“None of us were shot,” Simeone told the World-Herald. “Rich has given different testimony than me.”
He and Kelly said that Krell was flying the helicopter in front of them in their two-unit formation.
In an article he wrote for the New York Post on Thursday, Simeone described their mission — which he said included one other helicopter, not two — as “uneventful,” save for the dust storm that grounded them in the desert for several days.
“Brian Williams’ account is not true,” he wrote.
Simeone and Kelly aren’t alone in their disagreement with Krell’s claims.
David Luke, a flight engineer on a Chinook accompanying Williams’, offered perhaps the most detailed explanation of the movements of the helicopters that day.
He told Stars and Stripes that his Chinook and Williams’ were part of a different formation than the one which included the helicopter downed by the RPG. (RELATED: Brian Williams Told Alec Baldwin He Thought He Was Going To Die During Helicopter Attack That Never Happened)
As Stars and Stripes laid out, the Chinooks in the area that day were part of two units within the 159th Aviation Regiment: one called “Big Windy” out of Giebelstadt Army Airfield in Germany and another out of Savannah, Georgia.
Luke said that his and Williams’ helicopters were flying south towards Kuwait when they flew past a formation headed north. Luke said that soon after that he and his crew heard radio chatter that a northbound Chinook had fallen under fire. The two helicopters then came into contact with the massive dust storm and were forced to land at a makeshift camp where the injured helicopter had landed.
Don Helus, the pilot of the helicopter hit by the RPG, told The Daily Caller through email that Simeone was the pilot-in-command of Williams’ helicopter. Helus also said that Krell did not mention coming under fire after landing. He did not clarify for certain which aircraft Krell had manned.
The New York Times reported that Joe Summerlin, who was on board the downed helicopter, claims that Williams was on board a Chinook which was part of a different mission.
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, a flight engineer on Williams’ helicopter, told Stars and Stripes that the aircraft received no ground fire.
He told the World-Herald that Krell’s story was “false.”
The Times also spoke with Kelly who again said that he did not recall coming under fire.
The confusion over the vastly different accounts led CNN’s Jake Tapper, who conducted the interview with Krell, to tweet: “[definitely] need to get to the bottom of this tomorrow. Confusing and strange.” (RELATED: Brian Williams Told David Letterman His False Helicopter Story In Vivid Detail)
TheDC reached out to Krell but he did not immediately respond.