Army flight crews said Thursday that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, in his apology over a false Iraq War story he had told for more than a decade, left out key facts in his admission, the latest development in an embarrassing episode for the face of the news network.
On Wednesday, Williams, 55, admitted that he was not aboard a helicopter that was hit and forced down during the invasion of Iraq on March 24, 2003, instead claiming that he was flying in a Chinook helicopter behind the formation that took fire.
But on Thursday, Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper that first broke Williams' admission, reported that Williams was flying with a different helicopter company altogether, in a different direction, and linked to the attacked unit only by radio.
“I think it is misleading” for Williams to say his aircraft was following behind the Chinook hit by two rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, David Luke, a retired soldier from Texas who was a flight engineer with a company of the helicopters under the 159th Aviation Regiment, told the newspaper.
Luke said his formation of three Chinooks was carrying Williams and his NBC crew back toward Kuwait when they passed another company of Chinooks based out of Germany known as Big Windy, which was heading in the opposite direction toward Baghdad, he said.
Luke’s Hercules Chinooks, carrying Williams and the NBC crew, soon heard over the radio that the Big Windy company they had passed came under fire from an Iraqi pickup truck.
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was a flight engineer on the Chinook carrying NBC, told the paper that the TV news crew placed a microphone in one of the helicopter’s headsets and later broadcast clips of the radio reports from the Chinook company that was attacked.
Luke’s unit then ran into an approaching sandstorm that forced them to change course and return north in an attempt to find a safe haven at the forward operating base Rams, a Spartan and hastily set-up post to the south of Baghdad, Luke said.
The unit found the rocket-damaged Chinook parked at an airstrip just outside Rams. Crew members on that aircraft said Williams came off his helicopter and approached them to ask about the attack.
In an interview with David Letterman in 2013, Williams recounted his version of events.
"We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was, we were north of the invasion. We were the northernmost Americans in Iraq,” he told the late night host. “We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of the four helicopters were hit, by ground fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47."
Williams most recently told the story during NBC coverage of a tribute to a retired command sergeant major at a New York Rangers hockey game.
"I want to apologize," Williams said on Wednesday night's broadcast of NBC Nightly News. "I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft."
When approached for comment by Fox News earlier on Thursday, an NBC News spokeswoman cited a Dateline NBC clip from March 26, 2003 that quotes Williams: “on the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.”
He also made a similar claim in a 2008 blog post, in which he said he was flying in a Chinook helicopter as part of a four-chopper formation, and all four came under fire.
Rich Krell, who piloted the helicopter Williams was flying in that day, told CNN Thursday that there were three helicopters in formation, not four. Although the helicopter in front of Williams was hit by the grenade, Krell said that all three aircraft were hit by small arms fire.
He seemed to take Williams' account in stride. "After a while, with combat stories, you just go 'whatever,'" Krell said.
A message left for NBC News regarding Thursday's Stars and Stripes story was not immediately returned.
FoxNews.com's Karl de Vries and The Associated Press contributed to this report.