On March 3, 2002, Mako 30, a six-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance team, and its Air Force combat controller, John Chapman, a Windsor Locks native, were ordered to set up an observation post on Takur Ghar, a large mountain in Afghanistan with a commanding view of the Shah-i-Kot Valley where U.S. forces had launched a major offensive against Al-Qaeda. The team was led by Britt Slabinski.
This timeline outlines the Battle of Takur Ghar. All times are based on best approximations. The description of Chapman’s actions after 5:16 a.m. are based on the Air Force’s recent analysis of the battle.
11:41 p.m. Mako 30’s chopper is nine minutes away from a landing zone off the peak of Takur Ghar when the crew is called back because they won’t have air cover due to a U.S. bombing run in the area.
Between midnight and 2:30 a.m.The helicopter has engine troubles and by the time a replacement chopper is ready, it is clear the mission has been delayed too long for Mako 30 to reach the peak of Takur Ghar under cover of darkness. Slabinski requests the mission be postponed 24 hours. Instead the team is ordered to insert itself at the peak of Takur Ghar.
Shortly before 3 a.m. The helicopter carrying Mako 30 lands on Takur Ghar and is instantly hit with enemy fire, including RPGs that damage the aircraft and lock the exit ramp in the down position. As the helicopter takes off, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, a SEAL and member of Mako 30, falls off the ramp and down about 10 feet into the snow.
2:58 a.m. The helicopter carrying Mako 30 crash-lands after its pilot tried and failed to return to Takur Ghar for Roberts. Chapman calls in air support for the fallen craft and directs an airship to search the peak of Takur Ghar for Roberts.
3:06 a.m.Chapman conveys team leader Slabinski’s intentions to return to the top of Takur Ghar by foot to rescue Roberts. Slabinski quickly realizes they are too far from the peak to have a chance of saving Roberts, but the transmission leads to the false impression that there are friendly troops on the peak of Takur Ghar. As a result, fearing a friendly-fire incident, a nearby gunship is ordered not to provide support for Mako 30.
4:27 a.m.Roberts, who fought on the peak alone before being wounded and captured, is killed by his captors.
4:56 a.m.Unaware that Roberts is dead, Mako 30 returns to the peak of Takur Ghar in a second helicopter in a desperate attempt to save their teammate.
4:56-5:16 a.m. Chapman and Slabinski clear one bunker, killing two enemy fighters. Chapman is wounded and Slabinski believes him to be dead. Two other members of the team are also wounded. Mako 30 breaks contact with the enemy. Chapman, presumed dead, is left on the mountain.
5:25 a.m. Chapman crawls into the bunker he and Slabinski had cleared.
6 a.m. Chapman fatally shoots an enemy fighter rushing toward him.
6:11 a.m.An enemy crawls to the bunker’s edge and Chapman kills him in hand-to-hand combat. Around the same time, a helicopter carrying nine members of a 19-man Ranger Quick Reaction Force approaches the mountain. Chapman rises to better provide cover fire and is fatally shot. The Rangers’ helicopter is hit and crash-lands on the mountain. The Rangers are pinned down near the chopper and several are killed.
7 a.m. The remaining 10 members of the Rangers Quick Reaction Force and one SEAL Team 6 member leave Gardez and are dropped off by a separate helicopter at an offset landing site 2,600 feet east of the peak. The SEAL goes to help the surviving members of Mako 30 who are on the mountain but away from the fighting. The Rangers begin traveling to the peak of the mountain.
10:30 a.m. After an exhausting high-altitude climb, the 10 other members of the Rangers Quick Reaction Force reach the top of Takur Ghar, reinforcing the Rangers already there. With the reinforcements present, seven Rangers storm the enemy position at the top of the peak, securing the hilltop.
MiddayAn enemy counterattack wounds Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham and others with the Rangers.
1 p.m.The Rangers request an urgent medevac for Cunningham and others wounded in the fighting.
2:30 p.m.The medevac choppers are ordered to stand down after 1½ hours of deliberations in which it is concluded that it is too dangerous to send a helicopter back to the mountain before nightfall.
7 p.m.Cunningham is declared dead after frantic efforts to keep him alive fail.
Shortly after 8 p.m. Helicopters arrive on the peak to evacuate the Rangers and their wounded. A separate helicopter picks up the remaining members of Mako 30. The Battle of Takur Ghar draws to a close. Seven U.S. soldiers died in the fighting and the objective of establishing a reconnaissance observation post on the peak was not met.
Sources: The New York Times, Not a Good Day to Die, Roberts Ridge