WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Iraqi air force and fighters with the Kurdish peshmerga carried out a dramatic rescue mission Monday at Mount Sinjar, taking supplies to desperate Yazidis and bringing some on board the helicopter to make it safely out.
A CNN crew was on the flight that took diapers, milk, water and food to the site where thousands of people have been driven by ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
CNN's Ivan Watson, who was on the chopper, described the mission as "heroic."
Teams hurled out bags and boxes of food from as high as 50 feet before approaching the ground.
"We landed on several short occasions, and that's where -- amid this explosion of dust and chaos -- these desperate civilians came racing towards the helicopter, throwing their children on board the aircraft. The crew was just trying to pull up as many people as possible," Watson said.
Soon, some of the trapped families -- including babies and the elderly -- were packed into the flight.
"It was chaotic. It was crazy, but we were able to then lift off with about 20 civilians," Watson said.
Yazidis, among Iraq's smallest minorities, are of Kurdish descent, and their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
One of the oldest religious communities in the world, they have long suffered persecution, with many Muslims referring to them as devil worshippers.
More than a week ago, they fled into the surrounding mountains when ISIS fighters stormed the town of Sinjar.
Now, trapped without food, water or medical care in the summer heat, thousands of families are in desperate need of help.
It's already too late to save dozens of children who've died of thirst. But for the 20 or so people rescued Monday, the relief was palpable.
The crowd on board the helicopter burst into tears as it took off. Gunners had to open fire at the ground in order to make it away from ISIS.
"They flew in shooting; they flew out shooting," Watson reported.
"There was not a dry eye on the aircraft."
CNN's Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.
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Posted by Greg Palmer