"Black Hawk Down" site revisited 20 years later

Lara Logan reports on a defining moment in the history of U.S. Special Operations: the first battle between American forces and al Qaeda

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The following script is from "Super 6-1" which aired on Oct. 6, 2013. The correspondent is Lara Logan. Max McClellan, producer.

It was a defining moment in the history of U.S. Special Operations and it was the first time American forces faced al Qaeda in battle. You may remember it as "Black Hawk down," a phrase immortalized on the battlefield in Somalia 20 years ago this past week.

Super 6-1 was the call sign of the first Black Hawk helicopter to be shot out of the sky that day, setting in motion a series of events that remain seared into America's memory: the sight of U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets, the capture of a badly wounded American pilot named Mike Durant.

When the fighting ended, America pulled out of Somalia with the dead and wounded, but left behind the wreckage of Super 6-1. Tonight, you are going to see and hear things about that day you never have before and meet an American couple determined to bring home a lost piece of American history.

To get to the crash site of Super 6-1, you have to travel into the Bakara market, the worst part of Mogadishu.

David Snelson: There's still people there very sympathetic with the Shabab.

Lara Logan: Which is basically al Qaeda in Somalia?

David Snelson: It's al Qaeda in Somali.

David Snelson is a former warrant officer for U.S. Army Intelligence, and he's been running a private security company here with his wife, Alisha Ryu, for the past three years. He took us to the crash site with a small army of 20 armed guards.

Lara Logan: So the biggest threats here really are IEDs, homemade bombs?

David Snelson: IEDs. VBIEDs. Or vehicle IEDs.

The violent history of this ancient Arab city is written in the ruins that still dominate these streets. Somalia has been a country without a government for most of the past two decades and it's only now beginning to emerge from the chaos. David's guards set up a ring of security when we got to the site.

David Snelson: It's just down over here, right, right here.

Lara Logan: Oh my gosh. This tiny little alleyway?

David Snelson: It's just this tiny alleyway.

There's nothing marking the spot, just a sense of history and the knowledge that this epic battle unfolded right here where Super 6-1 came down. You can see where the wreckage was laying in these haunting images taken in the days after the battle. The smashed hulk of the main rotor was right against the wall where we were standing.

David Snelson: In fact, I'm relatively confident that this, this section of the wall was probably damaged in the crash and just never been repaired.

How it ended up here began with a top secret mission. A task force of U.S. Special Operations troops were sent in to hunt down a violent warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was preventing U.S. and UN troops from feeding starving Somalis.

Norm Hooten: The mission that day was to capture key leaders of his executive staff. We had all of his executive staff at one meeting which was very rare. Usually you get one or two but to have 10-12 key leaders in one spot was, was just, was just something we couldn't turn down.

Norm Hooten was one of the special operators leading the assault force that day and in 20 years he has never spoken publicly about the battle.

60 Minutes was able to obtain this surveillance video which has not been seen publicly until now. Here you can see the very beginning of the mission. Hooten was flown in on one of these "Little Bird" helicopters to the target building, which was quickly enveloped in clouds of dust.

Lara Logan: How well did you and your men execute that main-- the main objective of the mission?

Norm Hooten: It was flawless. From the time we set down to the time we called for the helicopters to come back and get us, I would say it was no more than five minutes and it was over.

Lara Logan: So you thought you were going back, it was done?

Norm Hooten: Yes. The helicopters were on their way back to the target to pick us up. We had everybody that we'd been trying to get for months was in one package in one mission.

Then, from this rooftop with his men under fire, Hooten watched as the lead Black Hawk Super 6-1 headed towards him.

Norm Hooten: And it took a direct hit to the, to the tail boom. And it went and started a slow rotation.

Lara Logan: How hard did it hit?

Norm Hooten: It was a catastrophic impact. That's the only way I could describe it.

This is Super 6-1 moments after it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, spinning out of control before it's torn apart on impact.

[Radio: Going down, we got a Black Hawk going down.]

When Super 6-1 came tumbling out of the sky on Oct. 3, 1993, these streets were already a battlefield. Thousands of angry Somalis and heavily armed gunmen were locked in an intense battle with the Americans. And now the unthinkable had happened. They'd shot down a Black Hawk -- this powerful symbol of America's might. For the men on the ground here, it was the moment that changed everything.

Matt Eversmann: There is now a complete, 90 degree turn in our plan. And it is to go recover this aircraft.

Matt Eversmann was one of the Army Rangers who fast roped out of these Black Hawk helicopters to secure the target building. Until then, none of their operations had lasted more than an hour and they had no reason to think this one would be any different.

Lara Logan: Some of the guys didn't even take water with them, because they thought it would be over so quickly.

Matt Eversmann: You're looking at one of 'em, you know?

Lara Logan: You didn't--

Matt Eversmann: What an idiot. I took one of my canteens out. Because you could put seven magazines into the old canteen pouch. It was a perfect fit.

Hovering a few hundred feet above the battlefield in the command and control helicopter was Tom Matthews. Back then, he was the battalion commander for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment -- considered the finest helicopter pilots in the world.

Lara Logan: Did you see Super 6-1 get hit?

Tom Matthews: I did. The nose went into a wall that was reinforced with another wall on the other side. The tail boom knocked down the wall behind it. The cockpit did not break through that wall because it was reinforced. So it crushed that cockpit.

Lara Logan: Which obviously meant that the two pilots had no chance.

Tom Matthews: They had no chance at impact in that particular case.

Matthews told us the pilots, Chief Warrant Officers Cliff Wolcott and Donovan Briley were among the best under his command. He recalled those first few moments after the crash, as he tried to make sense of what had happened to the eight men on board.

Tom Matthews: First thing I saw was a guy crawl out of the wreckage of Super 6-1, one of the operators who was in the back, and take up a defensive fighting position at the corner of the building to protect that crash site. And that happened within probably 30 seconds of the of the crash.

The dark figure you can just make out standing on the corner is 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Dan Busch, as he defended Super 6-1 against swarming enemy fighters. He would soon be dead. Norm Hooten says he and his men were doing everything they could to get to the crash site that was in danger of being overwhelmed.

Lara Logan: You've described it as being like sharks, smelling the blood in the water.

Norm Hooten: Yes. They smelled blood and they were, they were moving towards it.

Matt Eversmann and his team of Army Rangers were also trying to get to Super 6-1 in this convoy, but they kept running into a hail of gunfire.

Matt Eversmann: I think we went through three or four ambushes along the way. Literally, this is-- the Somalis line both sides of the street, face towards the center, and shoot while you're driving through. I mean, that's their battle drill. And we start to lose more soldiers by attrition.

Lara Logan: Taking casualties on the convoy-

Matt Eversmann: You know, we're taking casualties on the convoy. You know, each ambush, we're losing more guys.

The Americans were outnumbered by thousands of Somalis. Norm Hooten said it took him and his men hours to reach the crash site which was only a few blocks away.

Lara Logan: And all the time you were being hit from every direction?

Norm Hooten: That's correct.

Lara Logan: And taking casualties constantly?

Norm Hooten: Yeah, at close range. You're within a doorway away or over a brick wall, so within, within 10 feet. So it's very, very close and very personal.

Lara Logan: You can see exactly who's trying to kill you?

Norm Hooten: You can.

Lara Logan: When you finally got to that crash site what was that like, that moment when you first saw it, you knew that you were finally there?

Norm Hooten: I can remember seeing the tail boom kinda broken and sticking out. And I remember the relief I felt when I saw it. I said "finally, we finally we can finally put our arms around this thing and start solving this problem."

In the midst of this intense fight, they faced a nearly impossible task: to free the body of one of the pilots pinned in the wreckage. It took all night.

Norm Hooten: We used every manual tool we could to try to disassemble that aircraft and recover. We went in with straps and lifts and basically pulled that aircraft off until we could recover our friends, and leave. I remember being inside that aircraft, working on it and looking out and seeing the sun coming up and thinking, here we go. It's getting ready to get bad again.

Lara Logan: So you were not going to leave that pilot's body -

Norm Hooten: No, no, no.

Lara Logan: -trapped in that aircraft.

Norm Hooten: That was absolutely not an option.

More than 13 hours after Super 6-1 went down, they were still at the crash site and the battle wasn't over yet. Out of 160 Americans, more than a hundred were dead or wounded. One of them was a 21-year-old Army Ranger from New Jersey, Corporal Jamie Smith.

Norm Hooten: He was shot in the leg, but he was shot way up close to the hip, so you couldn't get a tourniquet on him, you know. And we kept pushing IVs into him for hours and he would say, "Am I gonna die?" And we would say, "No you're not gonna die." And we'd call helicopter in to come and get him and it would come in and that helicopter would get shot. And then we would try to get vehicles in, and, then finally, finally, you know after hours of this, agonizing thing with a young kid. You try to tell him "No, son, you're not gonna die, you're gonna live." And he died -- and that, that is a, that's one of the things that I, you know, keeps me up at night sometimes --- that, that horrible lie that you tell someone trying to keep his spirits up.

The memory of Corporal Smith and the other men who died is what David Snelson and Alisha Ryu say they see in the remnants of Super 6-1.

This past spring, after careful negotiations with local clans they were able to start digging out the wreckage. They were anxious to get to it before the Somalis went ahead with a plan to build a road over the crash site.

The earth gave up one piece of twisted metal after another. It was surprising how much was there. Few people realized that for 20 years since it fell, Super 6-1 had been there, in that same place, where it went down.

Because of the threat from al Qaeda, it was too dangerous for David and Alisha to be at the site, and they were waiting for the wreckage to be brought to their home in Mogadishu.

Alisha Ryu: I saw the truck pull in and I saw what appeared to be at least three of the rotor, of the blades and I was, "wow.' I said, 'That can't be."

David Snelson: I was amazed.

Lara Logan: You had no idea?

Alisha Ryu: No idea. Had absolutely no idea, it was just, absolute shock.

They kept the wreckage safe behind their high walls and heavy security.

This massive part is the main rotor which still dripped clean hydraulic fluid when they dug it out.

David Snelson: I don't want to lift this up too much because it's really corroded and really fragile.

And these are the foot pedals used by one of the Super 6-1 pilots as he struggled to control the helicopter in the final seconds of his life.

It had taken them almost a year and most of their life savings, but in June they were finally able to package up the wreckage and send it on its way.

With the help of the U.S. Military, Super 6-1 made it to Fayetteville, N.C., just a month and a half ago. And this is where it will stay.

On display at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

Norm Hooten: I think it's coming back to where it belongs.

Lara Logan: And that matters?

Norm Hooten: And that matters. To anybody that was there that night, it matters.

  • Lara Logan
    Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.