CNN’s Jake Tapper seemed to break new ground on the Brian Williams story late Thursday, interviewing Rich Krell, a pilot who said he flew the helicopter Williams rode in over Iraq in 2003. Krell told Tapper the chopper did, in fact, come under fire:
Rich Krell: We were a flight of three. I was on the second aircraft. Mr. Williams was aboard my aircraft. We took small arms fire. All I know, one RPG was fired. It struck the lead aircraft which was about what we call six rotor discs in front of me.
JT: I have been on a helicopter before. I know you can’t hear anything, really, especially if you are in the back. Would he have been able to have heard the small arms fire?
RK: He would have been aware of it because of the activity of the crew. The gunners were returning fire. M-60s are very loud. The pinging of the bullets hitting us, there were only a few but it’s a distinct sound so whether he heard it or not, I’m not sure. But he was aware something was going on because the door gunners were returning fire.
JT: Just to reiterate this point, your helicopter did take fire. Did it come into the helicopter at all?
RK: It struck the belly up in the forward cabin area and one, two other side hits but it didn’t cause any major damage, just some minor damage to electronic components.
That account does not match the story originally told by Williams, who reported his helicopter was “ordered to land” without explanation. Further, NBC cameras were inside the chopper and the crew would have tried to document the ship’s gunners returning fire–or at least Williams would have mentioned it in his story.
Krell’s account is also disputed by two pilots who talked to The New York Times for today’s A1 story:
Christopher Simeone and Allan Kelly…said in an interview that they did not recall their convoy of helicopters coming under fire. After the initial piece aired on NBC in 2003, Mr. Summerlin and his crew went looking for reporters on their base in Kuwait to tell them about the inaccuracies in Mr. Williams’s reporting. Instead, they wound up leaving notes in several news vans encouraging them to get in touch. Years later, they were still frustrated by Mr. Williams’s recounting.
“When he was on the air on the Letterman show, I was going crazy,” Mr. Simeone said. “I was thinking ‘This guy is such a liar and everyone believes it.’ ”
Breitbart reports Krell has now deleted his Twitter account.
NBC News bosses remain officially silent on Williams’ reporting and his future at the network. The Los Angeles Times, however, cites “an executive familiar with the matter” who says Williams will face no disciplinary action.
Update: CNN now reports Rich Krell is not standing by his story. “The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories.”