At just after midnight, an elderly Afghan by the name of Shina arrived at the gate of Camp Blessing. When the interpreter reached the gate, he said he needed to speak to the Marines’ senior officer, that there was a wounded American in his village. The interpreter ran to the Marine COC, and found the commanding officer, telling him that the man said he had a wounded American in his village. The interpreter added that for anyone to venture out in the middle of the night in Kunar was extraordinary.
The Marine Lieutenant was unaware of what had happened on Sawtalo Sar less than two days before. He knew only that he had been instructed to prepare for a search in the nearby mountains. He ran to the gate and met Shina, a tired-looking, gray-bearded man from the Shuryek Valley.
Taking Shina to the FOB’s “tearoom,” the Lieutenant had him served tea and a little food, then sat down to talk to him. Shina told him, through the interpreter, that an American doctor was in their village. He had been shot, and appeared in bad shape. He went on to say that the doctor was treating himself. That suggested to the Lieutenant that the “doctor” was a Navy Corpsman. The man handed over a note, written on Rite in the Rain paper, from Marcus, telling the Americans that he had been shot, that the villagers had taken him in, and were taking care of him. Initially, the Lieutenant couldn’t make out the signature, or much of the rest of the handwriting, and was confused that there was no real identifying information in the note, which he would have expected from a SOF operator who was isolated and on E&E. He took the note to the COC, scanned it, and sent it by secure email to the Marine Operations Officer at Asadabad.
The fact was, Marcus had not intended the note to serve as a “blood chit,” but had in fact expected to accompany Shina to Asadabad. The elder had instead left without him, apparently considering him too much of a hindrance on a trek over the mountains in his condition, having been shot in the leg. Shina had walked down the Shuryek Valley from Sabray to Matin, where he had hired a taxi for the ride up the Pech River Valley to Nangalam and Camp Blessing. The tribesmen of the Shuryek had had more dealings with 2/3 than they had had with anyone at Asadabad, and therefore trusted the Marines more.
Shortly after sending the email, the Lieutenant called the OpsO by satellite phone. He explained what had happened, and that he couldn’t make out the signature; he could read “Marcus,” but not the last name. The OpsO, having been read in on the situation, confirmed that a SEAL named Marcus Luttrell was missing, and instructed the Lieutenant not to let Shina leave until they had gotten all possible information from him.
Because of the lack of otherwise identifying information in Marcus’ note, there was some necessary doubt that it had in fact come from him. With Taliban activity in Kunar being what it was, and given the large number of faked SAR signals coming from the area, there was the very real risk that this was a fake, an attempt to draw in US forces to some kind of trap. When the note reached Bagram, it was handed over to FBI handwriting analysts, along with other samples of Marcus’ handwriting, to attempt to ascertain if the note was legitimate or a ruse. Meanwhile, the rescue forces continued searching and waiting for any other sign that any of the SEALs might be alive.
The Rangers and PJs at Turbine 33’s crash site had set to work gathering the remains and sanitizing the crash. The bodies were packed in body bags and dragged up to the new LZ, while the Rangers held security. All weapons and sensitive equipment on the helicopter was either taken or destroyed. The Rangers had rigged what was left of the wreck with explosives to ensure that nothing of any value would be left for the enemy. As the MH-47 with the bodies and the recovery force lifted off, another explosion went off on the summit of Sawtalo Sar, as the Rangers detonated the explosives, reducing what was left of Turbine 33 to scrap.
There was later some concern that the remains of all 16 men on Turbine 33 had not been recovered. This was likely due in part to the state of the remains (the helicopter had exploded on impact, and it was the middle of the summer in Afghanistan, where the bodies had been lying for two days already), and in part to the initial report from the Apache pilot of seeing a survivor. However, by July 6, all the remains had been identified by DNA analysis.
All 8 Nightstalkers and 8 SEALs had been recovered.