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News > Bagram Airmen respond to flightline crash
Bagram Airmen respond to flightline crash

Posted 8/9/2008   Updated 8/9/2008 Email story   Print story

    


by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


8/9/2008 - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan  -- As the sun began to set on a dusty day at Bagram, the force protection Airmen of Alpha Squad prepared to put another routine day at a flightline construction site to bed. Looking to fight boredom during long, repetitive days and wanting to keep their minds sharp, they would rattle off what-if scenarios - including one where an aircraft goes through the active runway. 

"What-if" shifted quickly to reality the evening of Aug. 4, when a coalition transport aircraft crashed on the flightline here. 

Working all day on the flightline, the force protection Airmen became accustomed to seeing aircraft take-off and land throughout the day. As the coalition aircraft approached that evening they immediately knew something was wrong. 

"I first saw the plane touch down and start to lose control, then I couldn't see it anymore because of the dust," said Airman 1st Class Ryan Felicilda, 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron force protection, deployed from Sembach Air Base, Germany. "Once I saw it was losing control I knew something bad was going to happen." 

"We are the first line of defense for the airfield and aircraft, but who would have guessed we would have been the first line of defense for a plane crash," said Tech. Sgt. Randall Howard, 455th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron force protection. "We became the eyes and ears of the first responders because we were out here, saw everything and got things established." 

Sergeant Howard, a reservist from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., was sitting in a tent when he first saw the aircraft appear in the dust - it was heading right toward him. He immediately jumped on the radio to instruct his Airmen and inform the tower and ground personnel of the situation. 

"As soon as I saw it bounce I jumped on the radio and it was nonstop from there," he said. "Communication was key." 

The aircraft came to a stop within 100 yards of the tent Sergeant Howard was in and within feet of a minefield. Instinctively, he ran toward it and began to help the crew and passengers exit the aircraft. He and some of his Airmen, now initial responders, gathered the crew, moved them to a location a safe distance from the aircraft and started to gather accountability. 

Meanwhile, the remaining force protection Airmen jumped into action to clear the construction workers and vehicles from the site. Within 20 minutes they had more than 70 workers and 40 vehicles cleared from the scene. With the workers safely accounted for and out of the way, the Airmen shifted gears and began to help out and take care of what needed to be done. Some helped establish a cordon around the aircraft, a few tended to the crew and passengers and secured medical attention, while others manned an entry control point ensuring no one accessed the site who didn't need to be there. Much of this they did without instructions. 

"My team - their reaction time, calmness and professionalism - was second to none," Sergeant Howard said. "It was kind of like chess. Everybody was placed where they needed to be and did what they needed to do. They played their role to a key and there was not one mishap" 

Two security forces members who arrived at Bagram less than a week prior were patrolling the flightline and witnessed the crash as well. They were the first security forces members on scene and helped force protection establish the cordon. 

"From the time it happened until everyone was on scene took minutes. It was a very fast response," said Staff Sgt. David Skonieczny, deployed from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, Wis. "It wasn't chaotic. Everyone knew their job out there." 

Response to the crash was a combined effort. While force protection and security forces held the cordon, the KBR Fire Department extinguished the fire. Medical personnel checked and treated the crew and passengers' injuries. 

With the aircraft cleared safe by the fire department, and the crew and passengers taken care of, the focus shifted from initial response to crash recovery. The 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Crash Recovery Team took the lead, with assistance from members of other maintenance units familiar with the type of aircraft. The first task for the crash recovery team was to assess the damage and determine a plan of action for moving the aircraft. 

"The front of the aircraft was burned. The nose gear was collapsed and pushed into the cockpit," said Master Sgt. Joseph Hutchins, CRT chief. "We had to figure out how to move the aircraft into a different area clear of the runway so that the Bagram Air Field mission could continue." 

Before they could move the aircraft it needed to be unloaded of its cargo. Unable to use a K-loader, the team embarked on the grueling task of unloading three pallets of food and personal cargo by hand. With the cargo unloaded, the CRT could begin their recovery operations. They used a 25K forklift to maneuver and push the front nose of the aircraft into the position they wanted it to be in. This presented a challenge due to the location of the aircraft. 

"We only had a small area to turn the plane and push it back where the ground was hard, otherwise we risked getting it stuck," said Sergeant Hutchins, an Air National Guardsman deployed from the 111th Fighter Wing in Pennsylvania. The proximity of an active minefield added to the challenge and lack of available space, but in less than three hours the team was able to successfully move the aircraft into a position were it remained clear of flightline operations. 

"It went pretty smooth compared to other ones," said Sergeant Hutchins. "Everyone put 100 percent effort into the operation and everything was coordinated very well." 

Whenever an aircraft crashes it is an unfortunate event. However smooth recovery efforts, in this case with help from non-traditional first responders, and a quick return to the mission become the silver lining. 

"One of the things that keeps me awake at night is worrying about a situation where folks on the ground need our close air support, but the airfield is closed because of an incident," said Brig. Gen. Mike Holmes, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The recovery team made sure we safeguarded our people and assets while remaining focused on getting the airfield open again as soon as possible. They did great and we learned a lot."



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