On November 27, 2004, transport flight Blackwater 61, a turboprop CASA 212-CC, crashed in the mountains of Afghanistan. The plane was operated by Presidential Airways, a subsidiary of the private security company Blackwater, also operating as Blackwater Aviation under contract for the United States Department of Defense. The crew had left their regular flight route for "fun" to fly through a canyon, at the end of which they crashed into a rock wall. The words of the pilots reveal in stunning detail the cynicism of a war between audacity and folly, where men reach the edge of reason.
What follows are excerpts from the cockpit voice recorder transcript, as provided by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), with the voices of pilot Noel English, co-pilot Loren Hammer and flight mechanic Melvin Rowe. Also on board were US Army soldiers Lieutenant Colonel Michael McMahon, Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan and Specialist Harley Miller. Miller -- who had almost missed the flight -- was the only one to survive the crash, but he froze to death before the search teams could find him.
The transcript and recording start at 0318:37 (7:18:37 a.m. local time)
PILOT: I hope I'm goin' in the right valley.
CO-PILOT: That one or this one?
PILOT: I'm just gunna go up this one.
CO-PILOT: Well, we, we've never or at least I've never done this Farah.
PILOT: We'll just see where this leads.
CO-PILOT: Twenty seven million people in this country, boy, you wouldn't wouldn't guess that cause there just everybody's scattered out.
PILOT: But I'm now I mean I was really surprised at how you can almost always look down and see somebody or somethin' er.
CO-PILOT: Yeah, yeah, there's seem to be dwellings just about every where you go.
CO-PILOT: Yeah this is fun!
PILOT: We're not suppose to be havin' fun though.
PILOT: No fun allowed god-(expletive).
CO-PILOT: It's supposed to be all work we can't enjoy any of it.
CO-PILOT: Cause we're getting' paid too much to be havin' fun.
PILOT: You're god-(unintelligible) right.
MECHANIC: I don't know what we're gonna see, we don't normally go this route.
MALE PASSENGER: (expletive).
MECHANIC: Let me get out of the way.
MALE PASSENGER: Naw I'm alright.
MECHANIC: Get yourself a drink.
PILOT: All we want is to avoid seeing rock at twelve o'clock.
CO-PILOT: Yeah you're an x-wing fighter Star Wars man!
PILOT: You're (expletive) right.
PILOT: This is fun!
PILOT: Okay, it's about time we're gunna start climbin' I do believe.
PILOT: Okay we're comin up to a box up here.
PILOT: Yeah I think this valley might peter out right up here.
CO-PILOT: Yeah it shows us ah you got about twelve I don't know thirty miles of ah higher altitude, then there's another valley in the general direction that we're going.
PILOT: Yeah, peters right on out.
PILOT: It was good while it lasted.
PILOT: Yeah. It'd be nice to get a real good through my MP3 player in here.
CO-PILOT: (expletive) yeah.
CO-PILOT: That'll be great.
PILOT: Phillip Glass or somethin' suitable new age'y.
CO-PILOT: No, we gotta have butt rock that's the only way to go. Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister.
PILOT: I swear to God they wouldn't pay me if they knew how much fun this was.
PILOT: Well let's kind of look and see if we've got any where we can pick our way thru. Doesn't really matter it's gunna spit us out down at the bottom anyway.
PILOT: Let's see find a notch over here.
PILOT: Yeah, if we have to go to fourteen for just a second it won't be too bad.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Whoa, whoa!
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: There you go.
CO-PILOT: Boy, it's a good thing we're not too heavy today I guess.
PILOT: Yeah, oh, I wouldn't have done this if we were at gross.
PILOT: We can always turn around up in here.
CO-PILOT: Yeah we could we could do a one eighty here if we had to.
PILOT: Come on baby, come on baby, you can make it.
MECHANIC: Okay, you guys are gunna make this right?
PILOT: Yeah h-h-I'm hopin'.
MECHANIC: Hope we don't have a downdraft comin' over that, dude.
(Sound similar to stall warning tone single beep)
MECHANIC: Got a way out?
PILOT: We we can do a one eighty up in here.
MECHANIC: Yeah, I'd pick one side or the other to ah.
PILOT: Drop a drop a quarter flaps.
MECHANIC: Okay, yeah, you're ah.
CO-PILOT: Yeah let's turn around.
PILOT: Yeah, drop a quarter flaps.
MECHANIC: Yeah you need to--ah--make a decision.
(Sound of heavy breathing starts)
PILOT: God (expletive)!
MECHANIC: Hundred, ninety knots, call off his airspeed for him (unintelligible).
(sound similar to stall warning starts and continues until end)
PILOT: Ah (expletive, expletive)!
MECHANIC: Call it off, help him out, call off his airspeed for him (unintelligible) butch.
CO-PILOT: You got ninety-five.
PILOT: Oh God!
PILOT: Oh (expletive)!
MECHANIC: We're goin' down.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: God!
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: God!
(End of recording: 0350:00, 7.50 a.m. local time)
Source: National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB)