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Lawmakers’ plane evades ground fire in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

A military cargo plane carrying three senators and a House member was forced to take evasive maneuvers and dispatch flares to avoid ground fire after taking off from Baghdad on Thursday night.

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 Jordan.

“It was a scary moment,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who said he had just taken off his body armor when he saw a 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.”

He was traveling with Sens. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., as well as Rep. Robert E. Cramer, D-Ala.

Crew members apparently communicated to the pilots as they saw the initial rocket-propelled grenades fired from the ground, Cramer said. After the first burst, the pilots maneuvered aggressively and set off flares used for drawing incoming fire away from aircraft.

Once the flares were set off, the lawmakers said, two more rounds were fired as the pilots continued maneuvering.

Martinez said he quickly put his body armor back on.

Cramer, who estimated that the plane had climbed to about 6,000 feet, said: “We were jostled around pretty good. There were a few minutes there where I wondered: ‘Have we been hit? Are we O.K.?’ ”

Capt. Angel Wallace, a spokeswoman for the United States Central Command, said she was not aware of the matter, and military public affairs officials in Baghdad could not be reached immediately.