A key detail included in the first (2003) and second (2007) versions of Brian Williams’s story about his 2003 Iraq reporting mission, as well as his Wednesday apology in which he admitted “misremembering” that event, has been further debunked by the reporting of Stars and Stripes’s Travis Tritten.
Tritten conducted interviews conducted with military veterans present during Williams’s mission, and explained his findings in detail in appearances on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and the Kelly Files with Megyn Kelly on FoxNews.
The American invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003, and ended in victory on May 1, 2003.
Williams’s Iraq reporting mission took place on March 24, 2003.
From the beginning , when he first reported about the incident on March 26, 2003, and up to and including his Wednesday apology, Williams has claimed that a helicopter travelling in his four helicopter convoy and in front of his, was hit by RPG fire and forced to land.
But Tritten reports the chopper that took the RPG was not in Williams’s convoy. That chopper was on a totally different north-bound mission called Big Windy. Williams’s convoy had completed its mission and was south-bound.
Williams could listen in and record the radio communications on the north-bound mission while on his south-bound mission. The audio included in his 2003 NBC report supporting his contention that a chopper just in front of him had been hit by an RPG was actually a recording he made of the listened-in to radio communications on the completely different north-bound mission.
Stars and Stripes reporter Tritten, who broke the original story, also broke this new information Friday on both Jake Tapper’s CNN show, The Lead, and Megyn Kelly’s Fox show, the Kelly File. You can see Jake Tapper’s Friday interview of Travis Tritten here.
Here’s the transcript, starting at about the 4:30 mark:
TAPPER: So there is this moment where somebody’s saying our helicopter is taking small arms fire and it’s not taking it now, but they were and we need to find some place for security, over — that’s in the radio. Do you have any idea what that was in reference to?
TRITTEN: I do, actually. I spoke with the flight engineer on Williams’ Chinook, Joseph Miller, and what he told me is that Williams and the NBC crew, actually, they’d been given a headset and they had taken a microphone, and they had put it in the earpiece of the headset so that they could pick up the radio communications between the company that they were in and another company of Chinooks that was flying a separate mission in the opposite direction. So what you’re hearing is that radio chatter from that other company that was coming under fire.
In 2013, Williams began offering a third version of his story in which the chopper in which he was travelling also was hit by RPG fire.
Here’s the rub. In his apology Wednesday, Williams dug himself a deeper hole by re-telling the tale that the chopper just ahead of him in his convoy took RPG fire.
Williams apologized for his misleading 2013 third version of the story, but reverted to his misleading 2003 first version of the story.
“I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG,” Williams posted on Facebook.
“I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed after the groundfire,” Williams said in his on-air apology.
Don Helus, “a 49-year old retired chief warrant officer” who works for an aviation company and lives in Enterprise, Alabama, was the pilot of the chopper in the north-bound Big Windy convoy that was hit by RPG fire and forced down.
On Thursday, Helus told the Dothan Eagle he was not buying Williams’s apology.
According to the Eagle:
Helus said he saw Williams’ first report on the incident about three days after being shot down when Helus had returned to Kuwait.
The MSNBC report stated that Williams had “survived a close call in Iraq.”
Helus and his crew survived a close call. His helicopter took fire and was forced down in the middle of the desert. The landing barely avoided a berm, which would have been difficult to survive had the copter landed there.
As Helus remembers, Williams and his crew arrived later.
So, Helus sent an email to MSNBC to alert the network of the “false reporting.” He did not hear back.
(Note: Helus apparently watched the report on MSNBC, where it aired at roughly the same time as it aired on the parent network, NBC.)
“It just wasn’t close to what actually happened,” Helus told the Eagle.
Helus has some free advice for Williams.
“Just be honest with the public. If you screwed up, say you screwed up,” Helus, the actual pilot who whose chopper was hit by RPG fire that day in Iraq, said.