Teamwork, training and
the durability of the C-17 Globemaster III are what got a McChord
aircraft safely on the ground after it was attacked by hostile
forces over Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, according to the
The five crewmembers recently recounted what happened during the
10-minutes from when their No. 2 engine exploded shortly after
take-off, to when they safely landed the C-17 back at Baghdad IAP.
An Air Mobility Command investigation team determined hostile
action caused the catastrophic explosion and continues to
investigate to determine what exactly struck the aircraft. The
mission's aircraft commander said he knew right away they were hit
"The impact just shuddered the plane," said Capt. Paul Sonstein,
a pilot in the 62nd Airlift Wing here. "I thought we were hit by
something. I didn't know what, but I knew something got us."
The crew immediately started going through their checklist,
shutting down the engine and planning their return to the airport.
With Captain Sonstein flying the plane, co-pilot 1st Lt. Andrew
Oiland, also from the 62nd AW, ran the checklist and worked the
radio. Behind him sat another 62nd AW pilot, Capt. Anne Lueck, who
watched over the cockpit to ensure nothing was missed.
Tech. Sgt. Jim Alexander, a Reserve loadmaster with the 446th AW
here, sat in the jumpseat behind the aircraft commander and had the
best view of the engine. "We had a very large flame coming out of
the top of the engine," Sergeant Alexander said. "It looked like a
flamethrower sticking out of the top."
With Sergeant Alexander scanning the engine and monitoring the
fire, the C-17s other on-board loadmaster and fellow 446th
Reservist, Staff Sgt. Eric Olson, was downstairs taking care of the
passengers and coordinated everyone's escape once they landed.
Everyone doing their
assigned job and working together as a team helped get the aircraft
safely on the ground, Captain Lueck said.
"The crew resource management training that we (all received)
proved to be invaluable," she said. "I think that's what saved all
of our lives and the lives of our passengers -- how well we
coordinated (and) how well we communicated with each other."
Many of the C-17's systems are backed-up through redundancy.
This and the aircrew's simulator training, in which pilots
regularly practice landing with an engine out, proved invaluable,
Captain Sonstein said.
"It felt and handled no different than a four-engine approach,"
he said, referring to how the aircraft flew as he circled back to
the airport. "It was nothing different because I was so used to the
Captain Sonstein had to land the C-17 with only his standby
instruments. Despite being the first time to ever land the aircraft
without the benefit of the heads-up display, he did so safely. All
five crewmembers' performance that day earned them Air Medals,
which were presented by Vice President Dick Cheney during a recent
visit to McChord.
"It was an honor to be there and to shake his hand, and get (the
Air Medal) pinned on by the vice president," Captain Sonstein
Despite the accolades, the crew knows there are still many
servicemembers overseas fighting the war on terrorism in similarly
dangerous situations, Lieutenant Oiland said.
"We have people from
all four services putting up with some pretty tough conditions over
there, doing some pretty amazing things every day," he said.
Still, Sergeant Alexander said he was incredibly impressed with
the response of his fellow aircrew members, who saved their
passenger's lives, their cargo, a multi-million dollar airplane
and, not the least of which, their own lives.
"I've been flying for 14 years, and I don't think anybody could
have handled the situation any better than these guys did,"
Sergeant Alexander said. "They did a great job." [ANN Thanks Capt.
Sam Highley, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs]