Alissa J. Rubin, the New York Times foreign correspondent who suffered broken wrists and a fractured skull in a helicopter crash that killed the pilot and injured dozens of other passengers on Mount Sinjar in Iraq last week, gave a chilling account of the incident Sunday.
In an article dictated from her hospital bed in Istanbul, Rubin said so many Yezidi refugees boarded the rescue chopper on the top of the mountain that it was unable to take off, so a woman and her two children were forced to get off.
"They were crying," Rubin said. "The mother was quite thin."
The pilot, Gen. Majid Ahmed Saadi, a 35-year veteran of the Iraqi army, "was just so moved by all this," she said. "He wanted to help all these people, especially the children."
The Mi-17 helicopter was able to take off, but "you could see he was going to use the downward slope of the mountain to aid in the takeoff, until he could build up enough lift," Rubin said. "The nose of the helicopter was pointing downhill as the flight started."
Then Rubin "felt the helicopter hit something," which she said someone on board thought to be a rock. She thought "the pilot would right it, but then I saw the ground come up. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew it was bad."
When we went down, I thought, all right, we’re on a mountain, it’ll slide a long way before it stops. Stuff fell on me; I didn’t know if they were people or things. Then [Vian Dakhil, a Yezidi member of Parliament] landed on top of me. Everyone was groaning. There were no screams, but everyone was groaning.
According to the Times, nearly all of the 40 people aboard the helicopter — including 25 Yezidis, five Kurdish politicians and four Western journalists — were injured in the crash.
Adam Ferguson, a New York Times photographer who was traveling with Rubin, pulled her out of the helicopter and wrapped a scarf around her head to stop the bleeding. A peshmerga soldier helped immobilize her broken wrists.
A rescue helicopter arrived, and Rubin was evacuated to Istanbul, where she was said to be in stable condition. Rubin was expected to be flown back to the United States on Sunday, the newspaper said.
At the time Rubin dictated her story, she did not seem to be aware that Saadi had been killed in the crash.
"How is the pilot?" she asked. "Did he make it? He just wanted to help."