Helicopter wreckage tells a sad story
Dr Peter Pedersen, Assistant Director and Head of National Collections at the Australian War Memorial with an engine cowling from a coalition Blackhawk helicopter that crashed in Southern Afghanistan in June 2010. It was used as an improvised stretcher to save the lives of soldiers. Photo: Karleen Minney
To some people, the ripped and damaged Black Hawk helicopter engine cowling that has just arrived at the Australian War Memorial would be just another piece of flotsam from a foreign war. But for Gordon Chuck, this crudely varnished relic of the Afghanistan conflict is much, much more.
The object - less than 1.3 metres long and 1 metre wide - was used as a makeshift stretcher to carry wounded Diggers to safety the night Mr Chuck's son, Private Ben Chuck, Private Tim Aplin, Private Scott Palmer and a US serviceman were killed on June 21, 2010.
The crash, in northern Kandahar, left seven other Australian commandos and four Americans badly wounded.
On Sunday at the War Memorial, Mr Chuck, members of his family and relatives of the other victims, came face to face with their first tangible artefact of that black night.
Australian survivors of the crash were also present at what was a very private moment.
''It was confronting, quite confronting for all the family members,'' Mr Chuck said.
''When something like this [the helicopter crash] happens there is no physicality, no sense of connection. This makes it real. It [the engine cowling] was used to take the boys from one chopper to the next; from the scene of the impact to the scene of the rescue.''
He said the speed with which the men aboard the rescue helicopters had reacted in a highly dangerous environment was a testament to their training and skill.
The first Black Hawk, an American UH-60, had gone down in unknown circumstances.
''The rescuers had to land quickly, in an unknown situation, and knew they could be at risk of attack,'' Mr Chuck said.
In the words of the subsequent ''mass-casualty event'' report: ''The initial scene was of a helicopter on fire with men calling for help and also members still trapped in the downed aircraft.''
Mr Chuck, who was grateful for the opportunity to view the relic, said he was pleased it has been brought to Australia to be permanently preserved in the war memorial's collection.
''That night touched Australia and has a story of its own. This [the cowling] is part of that and will help tell that story.''
Residents of Yungaburra in far north Queensland, Mr Chuck and his family are committed to remembering all of Australia's Afghan war dead.
They are leading a campaign to erect an avenue of honour comprising 80 Illawarra flame trees and including a sculptural centrepiece in their home town. Expected to cost $200,000, the proposal has been approved by the local council.
''It [the avenue route] is being surveyed this week and it will open in June next year,'' Mr Chuck said.