by Monica Mendoza
A Greek Air Force pilot radioed Ramstein Air Traffic Control Tower just before 3 p.m. Sept. 21. He needed to make an emergency stop, he said.
His aircraft, an A-7E, was having hydraulic failure. As the Greek aircraft taxied down Ramstein’s runway, it blew out its left main tire. Suddenly, the aircraft was speeding off the runway, taking out several center line runway lights. It came to a halt in the grass west of the taxiway near the munitions storage bunker.
“He was lucky that the plane didn’t roll over,” said Maj. Mark Hesse, 86th Maintenance Operations Squadron commander.
***image1***It was an event that emphasized how quickly a multi-million dollar aircraft can find itself in trouble and how Ramstein’s emergency responders and airfield crews must act fast to assist any downed aircraft.
With Ramstein’s busy flight line, there can be no down time, said Lt. Col. Ruehl Flores, 86th Operations Support Squadron director of operations.
“As soon as our tower gets an in-flight emergency call, we bring out the Crash Damage and Disabled Aircraft Recovery team,” Colonel Flores said.
The CDDAR team is a well-trained group of firefighters, wing safety officials, command post officials and airfield managers. The Greek pilot wasn’t hurt and there was only minor damage to his aircraft. But, the incident meant inbound air traffic had to be diverted, including blood supplies headed downrange and patients headed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. For Ramstein, that meant the clean up had to be swift and the team couldn’t waste a moment Master Sgt. Gary Kaufman, 86th OSS, energized the team, Colonel Flores said.
“(Civil Engineering) was there to clean up the foreign object debris, replace the aircraft arresting cable and replace the airfield lighting,” Colonel Flores said. “Understanding the importance of our airfield, we did work to expedite everything. Huge kudos to the team – they worked well into the night.”
Using a giant tow vehicle, one large enough to pull a C-130E, the team pulled the A-E7 out of the way. Rolls of metal and fiber were laid out in front of the aircraft and a special skate was installed under and around the shredded left main tire so that the aircraft could be pulled out of the grass.
Again, the team moved fast, Major Hesse said. The aircraft needed to be towed all the way to the hot cargo pad.
“Excellent teamwork was displayed by flight safety, ops, the fire department, (transient alert) and the CDDAR team to get the aircraft quickly and safely recovered to the hot cargo pad,” Major Hesse said.
Crews cleaned up the broken glass and shredded tire bits and repaired the lights for incoming aircraft. That night, a Greek maintenance recovery team arrived with two pallets of aircraft parts and supplies and an Airman from the 435th Munitions Sqaudron unloaded the parts.
That Greek team changed both main tires, a left brake, the plow on the arresting hook and an engine-driven hydraulic pump. The Greeks departed Sunday morning.
“They expressed their gratitude for all of the support we provided them,” Major Hesse said.