The true story behind the famous sequence of Lone Survivor movie featuring the CH-47 shootdown

The true story behind the famous sequence of Lone Survivor movie featuring the CH-47 shootdown

By Dario Leone
Jun 27 2020
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Marcus Luttrell did not witness the CH-47 Chinook helicopter being shot down as seen in the movie.

Based on the non-fiction book by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, the acclaimed, 2013 American biographical military action movie Lone Survivor dramatizes the US Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings which took place on Jun. 28, 2005 in Afghanistan. During the mission a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was given the task of tracking down the Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The film was written and directed by Peter Berg, and stars Mark Wahlberg (Marcus Luttrell), Taylor Kitsch (Michael P. “Murph” Murphy), Emile Hirsch (Danny Dietz), Ben Foster (Matthew “Axe” Axelson), and Eric Bana (Erik S. Kristensen).

While the movie was based on actual events, it has been noted that it contained a number of historical inaccuracies.

For instance, Luttrell did not witness the CH-47 Chinook helicopter being shot down as seen in the film, Guy D McCardle, Jr. (Check out his Space here for more interesting content), Army officer during OIF I and OIF II (2003-2004), explains on Quora.

‘At about 1140Z, two CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) were approaching the base of Sawtalo Sar, the last known position of the SEALs on the ground in Operation Red Wings. The call signs of these quick reaction force helicopters were Turbine 32 and Turbine 33.

‘In the clip below from Lone Survivor, we see the Hollywood version of what went on in those two helicopters as they approached the mountain. Marcus Luttrell is shown cheering as he saw his fellow SEALs (and Night Stalkers) coming to his rescue. In reality, Luttrell never saw the helicopters and only heard about the downing of Turbine 33 later while he was still in captivity. He thought the Taliban was making up the story and he didn’t believe it at first.

‘In the attempt to provide assistance to the troops in contact, Turbine 33 took the lead and was approaching a landing zone (LZ) in an open meadow surrounded by scrubby trees about 650 meters from the peak of the mountain.’

McCardle continues;

‘As they prepared to settle on the LZ, a white smoke trail was seen streaking up from the trees below. The projectile impacted Turbine 33’s exhaust duct and exploded.

‘The Chinook rolled over in mid-air after the impact and quickly fell to the mountain below where it became a ball of fire. All 16 men aboard, 8 Night Stalkers and 8 SEALs, died.

‘Still under heavy ground fire, Turbine 32 turned away hard (knocking the men in the troop compartment to the deck) and began to circle the mountain, looking for survivors.

‘After researching many sources, I saw no evidence that anyone in Turbine 32 ever pointed a weapon at the pilot and demanded that they land. That part of the story seems to be pure Hollywood fiction.

‘A no fire area was established for a 500-meter radius around the downed helicopter to avoid accidentally hitting any possible survivors.

‘The SEALs aboard Turbine 32 desperately wanted to land to aid and/or retrieve their brothers on the ground, but the Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) ordered them to return to the airbase in Jalalabad at once.

‘In the film, we see LCDR Kristensen shout “RPG!!!” as he witnessed a projectile trailing a stream of white smoke behind it rushing toward the helicopter. This almost certainly didn’t happen. It was the consensus of the SEALs who witnessed the shoot-down that Turbine 33 was downed by a MANPAD (man-portable air defense) of some kind.’

McCardle concludes:

‘Contrary to what you see in the movie, RPGs don’t leave smoke trails like that. Missiles do.’

Photo credit: Lone Survivor Movie

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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