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Marine helicopters rescue 2 U.S. soldiers lost in the desert for 7 days

AN AIRBASE IN IRAQ—The two soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were lost and alone in the Iraqi desert.

Seven days had gone by when a pair of Marine helicopters, three miles off course, flew overhead and spotted the two waving their arms wildly. Beside them were the letters "SOS" carved in the sand.

"I see them and think, `We gotta help these guys,'" said Marine Capt. Christian "Mac" Ward, a pilot with Marine Aircraft Group 29, which is based at New River Marine Corps Air Station, N.C., and now flies out of a captured Iraqi airbase that can't be named under agreement with the military. "But we knew they could be Iraqis, posing as Americans."

Ward was flying a CH-53 heavy lift helicopter and was heading to a refueling station when he spotted the two last week in an area scattered with Bedouin camps.

Ward tried to radio the base, but he couldn't get through. The helicopters circled overhead. Suddenly, the pilots spotted a white pickup truck speeding toward the two men below.

The men on the ground wrote another message in the sand: "7 days, no comm."

"I'm thinking, `Definitely they are American,'" Ward said.

One of the helicopters landed to retrieve the two men, as the other circled overhead and kept aim on the speeding vehicle. The truck turned around.

The two soldiers had just eaten the last of their rations and were out of water. The pair said they'd been trying to pull a Humvee out of the sand when they lost contact with their unit. It was unclear how they got left behind.

The men, identified by the Marines as a Sgt. Johnson and a Sgt. Jones of the 3rd Infantry Division, could not be reached for comment. There was no confirmation of the incident from the Army.

Ward said the two men had no idea their unit was long gone, and at first had insisted on remaining in the desert after getting fresh food and water.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.