Controllers manage four emergencies at once
By Senior Airman Benjamin Sutton, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 21, 2012
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Airmen assigned to the 366th Operations Support Squadron responded and assisted in resolving four separate and extremely serious crises that occurred within a matter of minutes Nov. 27, 2012.
The severe situations included three air and one ground emergency.
"I was working ground control that day and due to the unusual situation we were unable to use the standard frequency for our ground support assets to communicate with the pilots in the air," said Senior Airman Cordney Stewart, 366th OSS air traffic controller. "There would have been too much radio traffic for one channel so I juggled different aircraft emergencies on separate frequencies to the proper ground support personnel."
Agency first responders include personnel from the base fire department, hospital, operations, security forces, maintenance and recovery vehicle teams.
"While Stewart was working with ground support personnel, I was assigned to local control or relaying information to the pilots in the air during the emergencies," said Senior Airman Jennifer Bradshaw, 366th OSS air traffic controller. "Being in this kind of situation is extremely stressful because you have to make the right call or do the correct thing at exactly the right moment or time."
Controllers had seconds to determine which emergencies were the most severe and what order they would be resolved in.
"First there was the ground emergency which turned out to be a minor fuel spill," said Stewart. "So as we were working that we received the second emergency which was an aircraft hung-gun."
An aircraft 'hung-gun' is when the weapon malfunctions during flight and must immediately return to base and have the issue resolved.
"While we were rerouting that aircraft, two more jets called in with additional emergencies, an engine malfunction and another hung-gun," he continued. "So now we were resolving four separate emergencies at the same time."
As the engine malfunction takes priority, tower personnel immediately told that aircraft to land.
Next the first hung-gun aircraft landed in a safe area, followed by the second in a separate safe area, unique to these types of emergencies.
"To ensure the safety of personnel and equipment we enacted the security precautions and worked all aircraft to the ground as safely and quickly as possible," said Bradshaw. "One of our safety measures is to activate the light on perimeter road. This way no vehicles pass through where the aircraft were approaching."
"I was sequencing the aircraft in specific patterns so the pilots were aware of each other and the nature and status of our current emergencies," she continued. "This way they have as much advanced notice as possible when and where to land."
According to Bradshaw, this type of extreme situation is uncommon for tower personnel.
"The most important thing is to ensure personnel and equipment safety," said Bradshaw. "I am proud to be one of the Airmen who helped ensure this simultaneous emergency situation was taken care of correctly with no loss of life or damage to Air Force materials."
Tower personnel train for these types of situations in an effort to be the best.
"We are lucky to receive some of the best training in the Air Force and then have the opportunity to do this awesome job," said Stewart. "We also know we are one piece of the puzzle and work with our fellow Gunfighters to ensure pilot and aircraft safety from start to finish, despite dangerous circumstances which can arise from time-to-time."
Stewart is glad he had the opportunity to assist in taking care of this extreme situation, he said continuing, "My fellow Airmen and I got the job done and helped ensure everyone went home to their families."