The Crash of HAVOC 1-3 - Ruby Echo After Action Report (Part 1)
Updated: May 19, 2020
1908c RUBY ECHO was a Blackline Event simulating a downed aircraft with an aircrew on the run, and a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) team tasked with locating and extracting them. Participants were required to attend workup sessions to qualify for the Task Force and to align experience and knowledge of the participants. The event took place 09AUG19 to 11AUG19, and used a separate airsoft event to create a hostile environment for the operation.
Part 1 Link - This Post
Part 2 Link - Click Here
The Flight Crew
Three volunteers seeking to do SERE/E&E based activities were selected to fill the roles of the flight crew for HAVOC 1-3; a surveillance aircraft conducting ISR operations over the city of Kitchener. Their mission was to conduct a 25km E&E from the crash site to a partisan cache established at the event venue without being located and captured by militia forces.
The Militia Hunting Party
No crash goes unnoticed. A handful of individuals were hand picked to operate as a hunting party. They would travel a zone between the crash site and the event venue in order to locate and capture the flight crew.
The Militia Main Forces
Partnering with an existing event (“MONARCH SUNSET” hosted by OP4S), Blackline wrote an alternate story line that defined the two event teams as warring local militias controlling vast areas of Southern Ontario. While the MONARCH SUNSET event took place, the battle space would act as a dangerous site from which the crew of HAVOC 1-3 would have to be extracted.
The main body of the RUBY ECHO event comprised of a number of individuals who attended workup training in order to join Task Force 191 - a unit with Combat Search and Rescue personnel (CSAR - Team 15), Security Detachments (SECDET - Team 16), Listening Posts (LP - Team 03), Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Drone Teams (ISR - Team 02), Liaison Teams (Team 14), and the Command and Ops Center elements (Team 09 and TOC Team 01). They developed a course of action intended to retrieve the flight crew without having to engage enemy forces.
THE TF 191 COURSE OF ACTION
Team Leads developed a course of action that included three major components. First, a set of listening posts designed to pick up any radio transmissions from the flight crew. Second, a set of teams designed to join and build trust with the local militias in the hope of gaining their support and assistance in the recovery, and finally a set of teams to conduct a rescue or area search for HAVOC 1-3.
Blackline had contacted the OP4S event host to ensure participation was acceptable and in line with their intended experience. Some Blackline MEDSIM rules were adjusted to ensure the OP4S event participants didn’t view TF injury procedures as cheating. The militia leads were made aware of the intent of the TF, but were provided with no limitations on how to interact with them, nor the course of action chosen by TF191. These allowed a seamless integration of the two events, and encouraged an unpredictable environment based on how participants interacted. Minimal restrictions were placed on the HAVOC 1-3 team to ensure the event had a minimum duration. Local law enforcement was informed of the event.
PART 1 - THE CRASH OF HAVOC 1-3
Somewhere over Kitchener, Ontario, at approximately 2200h, a small Beechcraft ISR flight suffered mechanical difficulties. Pilots were unable to save the aircraft and crash landed north of Guelph near a large lake in an area controlled by hostile militia forces. The three aircrew, HAVOC 1-3a, HAVOC 1-3b, and HAVOC 1-3c survived the impact, but 1-3c had suffered a minor leg injury that would eventually come to impact their E&E. Much of their survival and communications equipment was damaged in the crash, including, critically, their personal beacons and radios. They were alone in the dark and far from help.
HAVOC 1-3 had created a SERE plan for this eventuality. Inside were the actions to take in the event of a crash. Priority tasks were accomplished quickly with the destruction of the sensitive ISR equipment and the gathering of undamaged supplies from the wreckage. With that complete, focus shifted to movement. Without radios, there would be no way to contact help. The known extraction points were hundreds of kilometers away and their supplies were limited. However, a small dot on the map just 25km from their location indicated a cache had been established by partisans for ops teams in the area. The decision was made to head to the cache in the hope supplies and a radio were available.
The movement to the cache was a significant concern. With a downed aircraft in hostile territory, it was only a matter of time before militia forces arrived to investigate and search for survivors. HAVOC had to consider who would be looking for them and where they might go. 1-3b begins by saying,
“From my perspective, search parties would have two viable options for interdiction of our party as we travelled. Travelling by car (possibly with NODs or thermals scanning roadways), or determining unavoidable chokepoints we would have to cross on our route and setting up observation on those locations.”
They weren’t wrong. A hunting party had been dispatched consisting of four individuals in two separate vehicles. They’d been provided a rough area of the crash, and a search area of approximately 640km square. Knowing they only had until first light to locate the crew, teams had used a combination of the strategies HAVOC had suspected.
“We posted up at an area near the crash site. We didn’t know if they’d be bold enough to just walk right up the road or not, but it was an obvious choke point. Later we transitioned to driving the backroads with the lights off while my partner searched the road with night vision looking for people on the roads and in the ditches.”
Only a short time after setting off to the cache, HAVOC had adapted to the situation and had begun to use the environment to their advantage.
"We selected a route using dark, unlit country roads. The local terrain consisted of many low, rolling hills. These would be easy to walk but would reduce line of sight for search parties.”
It was a smart strategy that would deny the search parties any additional assistance in the way of street lights. The use of quiet back roads also meant that approaching traffic would be heard well in advance. To defeat choke points, HAVOC 1-3 developed an SOP separating the team in time and space and specifically chose a more circuitous route early on in their trip to avoid obvious trouble spots.
Travelling towards the cache was rather straightforward with frequent stops for map studies and leveraging previous reconnaissance of the area.
“A rough SOP quickly developed reminiscent of street hockey games.” says HAVOC 1-3b, “A call of ‘car’ was followed by a quick scramble into a nearby ditch, taking care to get below the easy sight lines of anyone in the vehicle with NODs or Thermals. Any car travelling slow was viewed with greater suspicion. Once the car passed, one member would move back to the roadway, ensure no brake lights or additional vehicles, then movement would resume. Habits soon formed to be always looking for the next nice ditch or piece of cover to hop into.”
Meanwhile, TF191 had been alerted to the crash and was rushing to a local safe house. With only limited forces available this soon after the incident, the priority became security. Initial units on the ground went hot immediately and began establishing a secure perimeter for follow on forces. During their first survey of the safe house, a number of snail trails (grass knocked down by crawling or walking) were identified. The security posture was immediately increased until more teams could arrive to begin construction of the Operations Center.
For HAVOC 1-3, the long ingress to the cache had been mostly uneventful without any contacts, but approaching the cache itself required an increased level of security. Their posture had shifted from one of steady walking to low crawling. The slower speeds were necessary, but began to impact their ability to complete their task before daylight . 1-3a explains:
“Our infiltration into the cache area had us crawling across the farm to the west of the cache. We moved at a decent pace and the last parts had us crawling over rocks. We knew that if we had not made it to the immediate vicinity of the cache by first light, we may have had to go to ground to avoid compromise until the next evening when we would try again.” “On the cache side of the train tracks, we looked into the forest that was visibly at a much lower elevation. We struggled to find an entry into the forest that did not include a large drop into the darkness. This practically turned into a long process of shimmying across shale at a very steep gradient.”
The information on the partisan cache was specific, but did not make the task of locating the site any easier. The former bunker had been abandoned for years. The thick summer foliage and darkness made the site almost invisible.
“Locating a cache before first light was very difficult. We must have passed the area two or three times before finding it and only after the sun had started to come up. We distributed the items we had in the cache to each man making careful note of who had what critical equipment and where it was kept in case we were separated. In particular, high visibility signal panels and smoke grenades were accounted for to supplement our signal mirrors, and makeshift panels.”
Despite the influx of much needed supplies, the situation for HAVOC was continuing to deteriorate. 1-3C’s leg injury had worsened and was beginning to slow progress significantly. Additionally, the radio battery from the cache was dead. It would take hours before the solar panel could recharge the battery enough to get a signal out to rescuers.
“We did a quick assessment of our situation and it was quickly becoming dire. Rescue would not happen until we made contact with CSAR and the escape and evasion across country coupled with the hard landing took its toll on the crew. What was earlier just discomfort in the legs were now becoming a mobility injury, walking unsupported was no longer an option. It was not long before the sun was fully out and we could hear man made sounds coming from the opposite side of the tracks. We quickly finished up our personal admin and headed north-east. ”
HAVOC 1-3 would have to find a location to remain hidden until a transmission could be sent.