Airfield managers ensure safe emergency landing
By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 19, 2010
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In two years here, said the 33-year-old staff sergeant, there had been nothing like it.
On a warm, sunny winter's day, the kind that typifies Central Coast weather, two Vandenberg NCOs were inspecting the flightline when it happened.
"Is that a crop duster?" asked Staff Sgt. Lilanae Martin, pointing at a quickly approaching aircraft that was billowing smoke.
At the same time, a transmission from the control tower crackled over the radio. "... runway. All vehicles exit the runway immediately."
It was time to act.
With Vandenberg's mission focused on space and missile testing, as well as putting satellites into polar orbit, the flightline here can be a quiet place. However, the second longest runway in the Air Force got some noise with the emergency landing of a Cessna 206 Skyway here Feb. 17.
Six skydivers and a pilot took off from Lompoc Municipal Airport that morning expecting to climb high enough to jump, which is 10,500 feet to 18,000 feet in the Lompoc jump zone. The aircraft reached 3,000 feet when the pilot began to lose engine pressure, said Tech. Sgt. Donald Baily, a 30th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager here. Moments later, at approximately 11:45 a.m., the plane lost all power and the pilot began his emergency landing on the Vandenberg flightline.
Sergeant Martin, also an airfield manager with the 30th OSS here, and Sergeant Baily were conducting airfield checks when they noticed the aircraft approaching. After they got the call from the control tower to clear the runway, their training kicked in.
"It's just automatic," said Sergeant Martin, a Bremerton, Wash., native. "When we get in emergencies, it's like, 'Run your checklists, bring up the secondary (crash line), and dispatch somebody out to the airfield for the emergency.'"
That's just what they did. Sergeant Baily drove back to the airfield operations facility and dropped Sergeant Martin off. While she ran inside to run the crash phone and coordinate emergency responder traffic, Sergeant Baily drove back out to the flightline to where the aircraft had safely landed. By the time he got there, all six passengers and the pilot were out of the plane and standing just off the runway.
"I was impressed with the pilot," said 31-year-old Sergeant Baily. "He was pretty steady and didn't seem too shook up when I responded to the aircraft. There was an individual, though, whose first comment to me was, 'You got a cigarette?'"
Emergency responders couldn't help the smoker with his dilemma, but they did ensure everyone got off the flightline safely as Sergeant Baily briefed the pilot on what would happen with the plane. While the FAA is investigating the exact cause of the engine failure, its current condition prevents it from taking off any time soon. The aircraft is currently parked in a hangar on the base flightline.
The safe landing was made all the more possible because of the hard work of the 30th OSS airfield managers. Sergeants Martin and Baily, along with the rest of their team, ensure the flightline is a safe and secure place to conduct operations. This includes doing checks throughout the day for foreign object debris and maintaining a wildlife deterrent program to keep animals off the flightline.
"The motto for our career field is 'My Airfield, My Domain,'" said Sergeant Baily, who hails from Scotts Bluff, Neb. "If you take that to heart, you have to know your airfield, know where all the taxiways lead to, all the nooks and crannies."
After all was said and done that day, Capt. Jimmy West, the 30th OSS airfield operations flight commander, took the six passengers and pilot outside for a photo by the base's distinguished visitor marquee. Even though the skydivers touched down in an unexpected manner, they were able to go home with a different story to tell because of the training and diligence of 30th OSS airfield managers.