Urgent Fury veteran recounts Cobra crash 20 years later
Submitted by: Marine Forces Pacific
Story Identification Number: 20031010181442
Story by Cpl. Luis R. Agostini

MARINE FORCES PACIFIC, CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii(Oct. 10, 2003) -- Twenty years ago, United States forces evacuated U.S. citizens held hostage by Cuba's People's Revolutionary Army in St. George's, Grenada, in what was to be known as Operation Urgent Fury.

The multi-national, multi-service coalition, consisting of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, Air Force AC-130 gunships, seven Navy ships, Navy Seals, Army Rangers and paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne division, as well as Caribbean peacekeeping forces, swiftly defeated the People's Revolutionary Army and rescued the hostages. American forces suffered 18 casualties.

Three of those casualties were fellow Cobra pilots and friends of Col. Timothy Howard, Marine Forces Pacific G-2 assistant chief of staff.

On Oct. 25, 1983, two AH-1T attack helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-261, 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, were sent to Grenada to relieve pressure on a team of Navy Seals participating in Operation Urgent Fury.

The Seals were protecting the home of Sir Paul Scoone, who, in the eyes of the United States government, was vital to the restructuring of the Grenada government.

A young Capt. Howard, along with Capt. Jeb Seagle, piloted one Cobra. Major John "Pat" Guigerre and 1st Lt. Jeff Sharver piloted the other.

Howard was on his second tour with what was then the 22nd MAU, which was ready to relieve the 24th MAU in Beirut, Lebanon. The 22nd MAU was diverted to Grenada on Oct. 22, 1983, one day before the Beirut bombing that took the lives of 241 U.S. service members.

"We got the call about the bombing after we had already turned for Grenada, and it was too late to turn around to help them," said Howard. "We still had to complete our mission."

That morning, Rangers were dropped over Point Salines to secure the area.
Other Rangers were given orders to secure True Blue campus. However, they were ambushed and requested assistance.

Along with these Rangers, another Ranger detachment was securing the area at Fort Frederick overlooking St. George's. These soldiers received heavy fire, and gunships were called in to assist them.

The Cobras reloaded before taking off to relieve the Seals. After two passes over triple-canopy jungles, open fields and mountainous terrain, Howard's bird was hit by anti-aircraft fire originating from a nearby mental hospital.

Howard's Cobra had been hit several times, including three shots that injured him. The first shot hit him in the right arm tearing it off from the just below the elbow and down.

The second shot hit him in the right leg, seriously wounding his knee. After the final shot hit the aircraft, a golf-ball sized piece of the aircraft became imbedded in his neck.

Howard said they were forced to land in a field near St. George's beach. During the forced landing, Howard called for his co-pilot to lower the bird, but realized Seagle had been knocked unconscious from rounds impacting the helicopter.

"He must have hit his head when we got hit, because I tried yelling his name, but he wouldn't come to. I knew I had to do something, so I tried everything I could to land safely," said Howard.

Despite his injuries, Howard managed to wrap his left arm around the "stick" and control the helicopter enough to land it.

During the landing however, the aircraft was seriously damaged. It caused the tail rotor to furrow and separate from the tail boom.

Upon landing, all the warning lights on the circuit board lighted up, and although the helicopter managed to stay upright, it caught on fire. Seagle regained consciousness after landing and attempted to assist Howard.

"He kept yelling at me to get out, but I don't think he knew how bad I had been hurt," said Howard.

Although Howard managed to unbuckle himself, he fell to the ground. Howard recalled that Seagle grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him toward safety.

"I used my good leg to push with, while he was pulling me. He left me in a tall grassy field, next to a soccer stadium," said Howard.

Howard said he was worried more for his co-pilots safety more than his own, and kept yelling, "You've got to get out of here. I am going to die, but you've got a chance."

Seagle went for help, but Howard still anticipated his own death, and said he knew he was never going to see Seagle again.

Seagle managed to send a call for help before leaving on foot to find ground support.

The other Cobra received the call and provided fire support while a CH-46 crew tried to rescue Howard.

During the rescue attempt, the Cobra received fire from anti-aircraft from somewhere on the island and was shot down. Both Guigerre and Sharver were killed when their helicopter crashed into the ocean.

Meanwhile, Gunnery Sgt. Kelly Neideigh, a CH-46 door gunner, and Vietnam veteran, risked his life by running into live fire to drag Howard to the CH-46 to safety.

By the time Neideigh reached Howard, more than an hour had passed since Howard's Cobra went down.

Unfortunately, Howard's co-pilot, Seagle, never made it to safety; he was found dead on the beach. He had been captured and murdered while trying to find help for Howard.

Howard spent many long months in the hospital, learning to deal with the loss of his arm, and the grim diagnosis made by his doctors that he would never walk again.

"It was five months before I could walk with special crutches," recalled Howard. "I walked with a cane until just about a year after being shot. I began walking fast/jogging at the two year mark."

Many service members would have been content with a medical discharge following an incapacitating wound. Howard wanted to stay "Marine."

"I felt I still had something to contribute to my beloved Corps. I still feel that way."

That was 17 years ago. He recently scored a first class physical fitness test.

Howard was not alone during his struggle to overcome his injuries. Howard gives a lot of the praise and credit to his family.

"Beth, my wife of 25 years, has been especially supportive," said Howard. "Also, my daughter, Christy, has been a true friend throughout my life."

Howard joined the Marine Corps in 1977 to fly helicopters, and still plans on giving the Corps another three to four years, at the very least.

Howard's co-pilots may be lost, but never forgotten. A hangar will be dedicated to the late Capt. Jeff Sharver by HMLA-775, coinciding with HMM-261's reunion, celebrating its 20th anniversary of their participation in Operation Urgent Fury, Nov. 1, in Fredericksburg, Va.

The late Capt. Jeb Seagle drags Capt. (now Col.) Tim Howard from their burning AH-1T Cobra after it was hit with enemy fire and had to make a forced landing Oct. 25, 1983. Howard was the pilot of the Cobra during the attack on St. Georges Island, Grenada. This painting is a historical landmark that hangs in the Pentagon to symbolize the heroic act of Seagle before he was captured and killed.
Photo by: Illustration by Mike Leahy

Capt. Timothy B. Howard, AH-1T Cobra attack helicopter pilot, poses with friends as he recovers in Bethesda Naval Hospital after he was shot down during Operation Ugent Fury in 1983. Howard lost part of his arm and his leg was seriously impaired in anti-aircraft fire prior to being shot down, but he managed to land the Cobra by lashing his good arm to the "stick. Howard's co-pilot, Capt. Jeb Seagle, was unconcious during the landing and was later killed by the enemy while trying to reach help for Howard.