- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2007

A U.S. military plane carrying four members of Congress from a trip to Iraq had to take evasive action after it came under ground fire yesterday as it took off from Baghdad.

All three projectiles missed, and no one aboard the C-130 Hercules jet was hurt, according to Laura Henderson, spokeswoman for Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican. The other lawmakers on board were Sens. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and Mel Martinez of Florida, both Republicans, and Rep. Robert E. “Bud” Cramer of Alabama, a Democrat.

“They have landed safely in Amman,” the Jordanian capital, she said, adding that she had no further details.

“It was dark as the dickens outside, and I was looking out the little window. I saw the red glare of a shell or a missile coming up toward our plane,” Mr. Shelby said in a telephone interview with Alabama reporters cited by the Huntsville Times. “Then I saw a flare pop out, and our plane just started moving and changing directions and trying to move.”

He said the crew had done “a tremendous job evading the missiles … We owe them.”

An e-mail message sent by a person onboard to UPI said that “on departure from Baghdad our plane took fire from three ground-to-air missiles,” adding that the projectiles “could have been RPGs,” or rocket-propelled grenades.

“After visually detecting the incoming missiles,” the flight crew “took evasive maneuvers and deployed counter-measures on all three shots,” the e-mail said.

“One crew member told me that [helicopters] were called in on the shooters’ positions,” the e-mail concluded.

Aircraft taking off from Baghdad often come under anti-aircraft fire. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democrat, told the Honolulu Advertiser in January 2006 that a U.S. Air National Guard C-130 he was riding was nearly hit by a missile.

Shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles are a favorite weapon for insurgent groups. In the Saddam Hussein era, the Iraqi military acquired thousands of the missiles, mainly Soviet-built weapons such as the SA-7 and SA-16, according to military analysts at the Jane’s Information Group.

But former Iraqi military officers now in the anti-U.S. insurgency have also made effective use of RPGs against aircraft taking off and landing, although these generally are more effective against helicopters than against large fixed-wing jets such a C-130. In November 2003, a U.S. C-130 was hit by an anti-aircraft missile, but survived.

There has only been one confirmed Hercules shootdown in Iraq: 10 British military personnel were killed when their C-130 was shot down northwest of Baghdad in January 2005. According to some reports, the British Hercules was shot down by an anti-tank missile.

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