Reserve aircrew recognized for overcoming in-flight emergencies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shayna Hodge
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Col. Douglas Stouffer, 512th Airlift Wing commander, presented a quarterly safety award to a 709th Airlift Squadron aircrew on Dover Air Force Base, Oct. 14, 2023. They received the award for their superior judgement, crew resource management and execution of emergency procedures during multiple in-flight emergencies.

The emergencies occurred on a C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft during the return flight of the crew Reach 815, after a six-part cargo mission that culminated with the 709th AS aircrew flying back to Dover AFB from Royal Air Force Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.

“Without Airmen like you who have the knowledge and ability to face challenges head-on and solve complex issues, whether flying or on the ground, the 512th Airlift Wing wouldn’t be able to accomplish its mission,” said Stouffer during the award presentation.

“The first emergency was a pressurization issue that began about an hour after the aircraft took off,” said Maj. Andrew Graham, a 709th AS pilot. He and 1st Lt. Abbie Moore, another 709th AS pilot, flew part of the flight back to Dover AFB.

“We were trying to get up to 34,000 feet but couldn’t maintain the pressurization required to fly at that altitude,” explained Graham. “So, we descended to 30,000 feet to maintain what we needed for the cabin altitude. This caused concern about our fuel levels, because flying lower burns more fuel.”

In response to flying at a lower altitude and losing fuel at a faster rate, Graham and others worked with the flight engineers, who are charged with ensuring aircraft are airworthy before, during and after takeoff. They completed calculations to ensure the aircraft would land back at Dover safely.

Based on the calculations and having received a new computerized fuel plan, the aircrew said they determined it could make it back to Dover AFB without any issues.

However, more emergencies occurred simultaneously during the last 45 minutes of the flight.

As the aircraft neared Dover AFB and the aircrew prepared to line up the C-5M with the landing runway, some of the aircraft’s landing gear malfunctioned. The aircrew said they implemented normal procedures to correct the landing gear, but their efforts didn’t fix the problem.

“The issue with the landing gear wasn’t a huge concern to me, because I’d seen the malfunction occur on other flights,” said Maj. Adam Bearden, a 709th AS pilot. “However, the time it was taking to determine the problem with the landing gear became a threat, because we were getting lower and lower on fuel.”

Eventually, the aircrew resolved the issue; and, the landing gear came down. However, there was still one more battle to tackle before the aircrew would land at Dover.

This flight was the first overseas mission for 2nd Lt. Matthew Mignogna, a 709th AS pilot, and he was tasked with the final landing. But, with only 400 feet left before landing, Mignogna and his copilot, Bearden, lost sight of the runway.

With the new obstacle in the way, Bearden, a pilot with 19 years of flying experience, took over as the lead pilot.

At this point, the aircraft was down to about 18,000 pounds of fuel – a level Graham explained the aircrew never wants the fuel amount to go below.

“I knew we were getting short on fuel and that we’d probably only have one more opportunity to safely land the aircraft,” said Bearden.

“The storm forced me to execute a go-around,” he added. “Thankfully, the tower controller offered a different runway, and I could see it well enough to make a safe landing. It was at this moment that every minute of training I’d receive was utilized.”

Bearden stressed readiness and the importance of training, adding how the 709th AS completes pilot and flight engineer refresher courses on how to deal with multiple challenges at the same time.

“The training emphasizes prioritizing the issues, practicing airmanship and making safe decisions,” he said. “This level of training is paramount.”

Moore mentioned the flight back from England was the first time she’d experienced an emergency and that the quarterly trainings prepared her for the flight. She also applauded the flight engineers for their response to the emergencies and recognized the coordination it took between them and the pilots to keep the aircraft safe.

“They did a great job of communicating with the pilots in the flight deck as each emergency happened,” she said. “Overall, I think the entire crew worked well together.”

Moore, Graham and Master Sgt. Rich Claycomb, one of the 709th AS flight engineers on board the flight, each attested to how calm the aircrew was despite the emergencies that occurred.

“No one panicked,” said Claycomb. “We addressed each incident as they happened without rushing or trying to force a solution.”

Although calmness circulated throughout the aircraft during the flight, Moore voiced that realizing what had occurred on the flight was a surreal moment for the aircrew.

“Once we processed what happened we couldn’t believe it,” said Moore.

As the 709th AS aircrews continue to fly missions around the world, there’s no doubt they’ll take along the lessons Reach 815 taught them.

The aircrew agreed the major lessons learned include being prepared for any and everything, not being afraid to make tough decisions and always remaining calm in emergency situations.

The crew of Reach 815 included:

- Maj. Grant Bearden,

- Maj. Andrew Graham,

- Capt. Zackery Downing,

- 1st Lt. Abbie Moore,

- 2nd Lt. Matthew Mignogna,

- Chief Master Sgt. Tony Williams,

- Senior Master Sgt. Yerkes Tecson,

- Master Sgt. Richard Claycomb,

- Master Sgt. Zachary Preszler,

- Master Sgt. Genelle Bellar,

- Master Sgt. Juan Munoz,

- Tech. Sgt. Israel Rivera-Vazquez,

- Tech. Sgt. Kiatisak Maldonado,

- Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Malecki,

- Staff Sgt. William Skeeter and

- Senior Airman Isaac Lister.