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Peru native returns to unit less than one year after helicopter crash

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Less than a year after a helicopter crash in Iraq that left one soldier dead and several others, including himself, critically injured, Sgt. Justin LaFountain has returned to his unit.

"It's awesome to be back at work," said the Peru native, who serves with A Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. The incident happened Sept. 19, 2009, in Balad, Iraq, when the Black Hawk helicopter he was riding in was returning to base in bad weather. The crash, LaFountain recalled, happened during the landing. They were flying about 100 to 150 feet above the ground at a "pretty good clip," he said.

LaFountain said he was in the back, watching what he thought was heat lightning, and remembered thinking "Oh, we got this, we are gonna make that." When they got closer he said he "started to feel uncomfortable. A couple of seconds later..."

The details get a little fuzzy after that. LaFountain remembers the left side of the aircraft came to the ground first. He remembers seeing some sparks and hearing a metal scraping noise.

"It was all really pretty quick. We kind of bounced and came back up," LaFountain said. "I thought 'go-around'... Go-arounds are free as we say."

"Then the right side of the aircraft hit," LaFountain said. "I remember the starting of the rolling action, the dynamic, and one second later I lost consciousness. I believe it is because my head contacted the ceiling of the aircraft. I don't know."

"My next memories were of waking up and seeing a dust cloud around me. At that point it really wasn't coming to me. I was having the impression that I was having a bad dream," he continued.

When he came to again, he remembered being triaged by a female medic on the accident site. He had no idea of the extent of his injuries and told her to go over and help the others who were on the aircraft. He told her they needed her and all he needed was some Icy-Hot for his back. He would come to find out that he needed more than Icy-Hot.

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