WASHINGTON – A military cargo plane carrying three U.S. senators and a member of the House of Representatives had to take evasive maneuvers and dispatch flares Thursday night to avoid ground fire after taking off from Baghdad's airport.
The lawmakers said their plane, a C-130, was under fire from three rocket-propelled grenades over the course of several minutes as they left for Amman, Jordan.
"It was a scary moment," said Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who said he had just taken off his body armor when he saw a bright flash outside the window. "Our pilots were terrific. ... They banked in one direction and then banked the other direction, and they set off the flares."
Two other Republican senators, Richard Shelby and James Inhofe, and Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer also were on the plane.
"We were jostled around pretty good," said Cramer, who estimated the plane had ascended to about 6,000 feet (1830 meters). "There were a few minutes there where I wondered: `Have we been hit? Are we OK?"'
Capt. Angel Wallace, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, said she was not aware of the incident. Military public affairs officials in Baghdad could not be reached immediately.
Lawmakers travel to Iraq regularly to get closer looks at the military and political situation there, usually staying inside Baghdad's secured Green Zone and traveling under heavy security.
Despite the scare, Shelby, Martinez and Cramer said they believed the recent increase in troop levels has helped stabilize parts of the country.
"It was kind of dicey," Shelby said. "But it just shows you what our troops go through every day."