By SOF Editor on Fri, 02/05/2010 - 12:40pm
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Two 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron master sergeants helped save four B-1B Lancer aircrew lives and prevented the loss of the $283.1 million aircraft during its emergency landing shortly after midnight Jan. 18 here.
Master Sgts. Alan Andrews and Michael Wingler, 379th EAMXS production supervisors, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., ensured the safety of the aircrew when they rushed out to aid the B-1B that had just landed and they noticed fire coming from the aircraft.
"We had just launched a jet and heard (tail number) 77 call in for landing. Shortly after landing, the pilots called over UHF that they're losing systems 2 and 3, and that alerted us," Sergeant Andrews said. "System 2 runs breaks and steering, so from our position, we started approaching the aircraft.
"As we approached, we noticed the No. 3 tire caught fire, as well as the No. 3 brake. Sergeant Wingler immediately notified the (maintenance operations center) through our normal radio, and I called the aircrew over our UHF (radios) in the truck and notified them, 'Bone 22. Super, Fire, fire, fire. Evacuate!'"
Upon Sergeant Andrews' warning, the pilots performed their emergency checklist and were evacuating the aircraft as the sergeants drove in front of them.
"At the parking ramp near the end of the runway, there were two fire bottles," he said. "We stopped the truck, got out, grabbed the fire bottles and ran with them for about 50 yards or so and started to extinguish the blaze."
When the first fire bottle was exhausted, they continued using the second one, Sergeant Andrews said.
"In a couple of minutes, it was done," Sergeant Wingler said.
However brief the encounter, Sergeant Andrews said he felt like time was standing still.
Both sergeants credited their annual fire bottle use training with enabling them to react so quickly and effectively.
"We've had the training so many times, so there was really no thinking," Sergeant Andrews said. "If we had thought too much about it, we may have run the other way. I really think anybody else in our shoes would have done the same thing."
While their swift actions may be attributed to conditioning through cyclic training, the sergeants said their real-world encounter was nothing either of them had experienced before.
"I was amped up," Sergeant Wingler said. "The adrenaline was rushing and I was just going and going, and once all was said and done, I was still going."
They said it wasn't until they went back to their office to begin writing their after-action reports that they began to realize the true potential for disaster they had just prevented.
"She was fully loaded with bombs," Sergeant Andrews said. "Normally if there'd been one bomb, we'd have established a 4,000-foot cordon, and from that point, it would have been the entire (area of the) ramp. We would have had to evacuate or take cover. I think we would have had to take cover, because there was no time to evacuate.
"I didn't really consider the implications of nonaction, until it was all over," he added. "We just knew we had crewmembers on board and we absolutely wanted to make sure they were safe."
Col. Paul Schultz, the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander, said the sergeants' exceptional acts reminded him of a familiar quote: "An individual isn't judged on how he reacts when his life is good. It's how he reacts when things are tough.
"Their actions saved lives and aircraft," he said, "but they also allowed an asset, that flies over the skies of Afghanistan or Iraq, to save lives throughout the region. The wing commander and I, in six months timeframe, have pulled more than 300 caskets off of aircraft.
"Sometimes -- working out here in the heat, in the blowing wind and in the dust -- it's very difficult for you to understand how what you do is so important," the colonel explained. "For everyone in maintenance, it is that important. What you do keeps us from having to pull another casket off those airplanes."
For their actions, Sergeants Andrews and Wingler were awarded Air Force Commendation Medals and 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Coin of Excellence coins Jan. 31 during a maintenance group commander's call in front of a formation of about 700 fellow Airmen.