The Yazidis were battered… barefoot, legs swollen from walking, totally dehydrated

Alissa J Rubin (right), a New York Times foreign correspondent, was injured Tuesday in a helicopter crash in Kurdistan.

By: New York Times | Istanbul | Published: August 18, 2014 1:13:01 am
The helicopter brings aid to Yazidi refugees( Source: Adam Ferguson/ New York Times ) The helicopter brings aid to Yazidi refugees ( Source: Adam Ferguson/ New York Times )


If it weren’t for Tuesday’s helicopter crash on Mount Sinjar, what would I have written about the plight of the Yazidis?

I would have started, I guess, with this mountain that everybody is talking about, to which the Yazidis have fled. It’s hard to overstate the size of this mountain, which is such a sacred place to the Yazidis, and the place they went to escape the terror that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been inflicting on them. It is… 60 miles long, 5,000 feet high — and it is no wonder the relief operation, which riveted much of the world, posed such challenges.

Then I would have written about our pilot, Major General Majid Ahmed Saadi, a veteran Iraqi Arab officer helping the Kurds rescue the Yazidis. Adam Ferguson, our photographer, and I were waiting all day at the Kurdish military base in Fishkhabour, Iraq, for a helicopter to take us to Mount Sinjar. General Majid came in from his first run up the mountain with a full load of Yazidi refugees…

When we finally got in the helicopter, it was 3.45 pm. I had a seat on a load of bread, behind one of the door gunners. Otherwise, there were no seats, no seatbelts…

The pilot really made a big impression. You know, the Yazidis feel so betrayed by the Arab neighbours they had lived among for so many years; they all turned on the Yazidis when ISIS came…Yet here was General Majid, an Iraqi Arab himself, who was taking off from his own job… to help these people.

He told me it was the most important thing he had done in his life, the most significant thing he had done in his 35 years of flying.

It was as if it gave his whole life meaning; he was especially moved by all the Yazidi children.

When we were nearing the top of the mountain, people were gathered already…

We were on the ground only about 10 minutes. The Yazidis were battered. Some older people were barefoot, legs swollen from walking; others were just totally dehydrated; and children sunburned. The kids — a lot of them — were crying, afraid and confused, and others were silent, just frightened.

When we landed, it was almost scary, with people thronging to get to us. All these people just wanting to get onto the helicopter and off this mountain.

So many climbed into the helicopter, coming up the rear loading ramp, the crew couldn’t get the ramp closed. So they had to reopen it and make people get off.

Then General Majid took off…. I felt the helicopter hit something; later, someone said it was a rock. … Everyone was groaning. There were no screams, but everyone was groaning….Just before dark, a rescue helicopter came.

Several people picked me up and carried me aboard… At that moment, it just hurt so much. But then I thought, that’s good. At least I’m alive.

I bet a lot of them are not.

How is the pilot? Did he make it? He just wanted to help.

About 25 Yazidis, as well as five crew members, five Kurdish politicians and four Western journalists, were aboard the transport helicopter. Nearly all were wounded, although none as seriously as Rubin.

The only person to die in the crash was the pilot, General Majid.

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