NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday that he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, recanting a claim that he and the network had repeated for years -- most recently on Friday night.
Contrary to Williams' past claims that he was traveling in a Chinook helicopter that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire on March 24, he arrived at the scene in a separate helicopter about an hour later. He apparently was never in any danger, and the Chinook that took fire, one of three in its formation, was able to make an emergency landing with no casualties.
"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."
Williams, 55, most recently told the story during NBC coverage of a tribute to a retired command sergeant major at a New York Rangers hockey game.
“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said on the broadcast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
The Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that covers the United States Armed Forces, first reported the admission.
Williams disputed claims to the newspaper that his original report was inaccurate, saying that he originally reported that he was in another helicopter but that he had confused the events.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told the newspaper. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
In a 2008 blog post, Williams said he was flying in a Chinook helicopter as part of a four-chopper formation, and all four took fire.
But Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried the journalists, told Stars and Stripes that their helicopter "never came under direct enemy fire."
Several service members said they recall NBC reporting Williams was aboard the aircraft that was attacked, despite the claim being false.
Mike O’Keeffe, who was a door gunner on the damaged Chinook, told The Stars and Stripes the incident has bothered him since he and others first saw the original report.
“Over the years it faded,” he said, “and then to see it last week it was — I can’t believe he is still telling this false narrative.”