The only person who somewhat backed NBC News anchor Brian Williams in his tale of coming under fire while aboard a helicopter in Iraq in 2003 recanted his own account of the incident on Friday.
Pilot Rich Krell told CNN’s Brian Stelter on Thursday that he flew the Chinook helicopter Williams was on that day.
“Some of things he’s said are not true,” Krell told Stelter. “But some of the things they’re saying against him are not true either.”
Williams issued an on-air apology earlier in the week for saying that his helicopter was brought down by a rocket propelled grenade while he was covering the Iraq War. In a separate apology on Facebook, Williams admitted that it was a different helicopter that was hit by the RPG and blamed the bogus story on “the fog of memory.”
Krell somewhat defended Williams following the apologies, telling CNN that all three helicopters in the formation took some “small arms fire.”
But by Friday morning, Krell told Stelter that his own memories of the incident were foggy.
“The information I gave you was true based on my memories, but at this point I am questioning my memories that I may have forgotten or left something out,” Krell told Stelter in a text message. “For the past 12 years I have been trying to forget everything that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan; now that I let it back, the nightmares come back with it, so I want to forget again.”
CNN’s report based on Krell’s account began to come into question on Thursday night, when the New York Times published a story that pulled together the accounts of three soldiers who said Williams was not aboard a helicopter that took enemy fire.
Joe Summerlin, who was on the Chinook that was forced down that day by enemy fire, told the Times that Williams’ helicopter was part of a separate mission flying at least 30 minutes behind his aircraft.
The Times also reported that two other men, who said they were the ones piloting the Chinook that Williams was on that day, Christopher Simeone and Allan Kelly, didn’t recall their convoy coming under any fire. Simeone and Kelly gave a similar account to the Omaha World-Herald.
The pilot of the helicopter Summerlin said he flew in, Don Helus, also told the Nebraska newspaper that Williams wasn’t aboard his Chinook when insurgents hit its tail with an RPG. Helus said Williams arrived later and filmed the damaged helicopter.
An NBC spokesperson told Stelter that the network couldn’t confirm exactly who piloted the Chinook Williams flew on back then.
When CNN contacted Krell again, Stelter reported, the pilot backed away from his original defense of the newsman. Williams had gained and then lost the only tenuous support he had for a story he’d repeated several times over the years in the space of 24 hours.