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F-16 divert results in strengthened bonds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Whitney Tucker
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
An F-16 fighter jet assigned to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska made an emergency landing while performing a training mission in support of Exercise Cope North 2012 in the U.S. territory of Saipan, Feb. 21.

Upon landing, the aircraft slid off the end of the runway, coming to rest approximately 380 feet into the grass. News of the incident was immediately followed by the formation of a team comprised of deployed units temporarily assigned to Andersen AFB, several squadrons across the 36th Wing, as well as Saipan International Airport. Each squadron provided unique, mission essential support and facilitated a timely and successful resolution.

Three hours after the F-16 touched down at Saipan International Airport, an advanced echelon of seven Airmen was on-hand to perform an initial assessment and work closely with local airport officials and emergency personnel.

"We received notification of the incident and within an hour, three maintenance personnel were being transported to the scene on a Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 MH-60 helicopter," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Dye, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent, currently deployed to Andersen.

Airport officials temporarily halted runway operations to provide a safe environment as Airmen prepared to extract the aircraft. Once secure, maintenance personnel put the fighter jet on jacks, performed preventative maintenance and began to troubleshoot the original problem.

Local airport personnel provided intermittent supplies, fuel and support to assist relief efforts and ensure favorable results.

"Members of the airport staff were extremely welcoming and helpful," said Staff Sgt. Jared Carlson, 354 AMXS team lead. "They provided equipment and logistics support. They made sure we had everything we required."

Over the course of a few days, additional Andersen personnel and equipment flew into Saipan aboard Air Force C-130s. The team worked closely with local airport personnel to move the F-16 from the grass to the taxiway and ramp area for repairs. The airport's main runway was reopened to large commercial jets just 16 hours after the emergency landing. The alternate runway stayed opened throughout the recovery and repair operation for smaller aircraft.

The isolated incident also facilitated an impromptu training session in which servicemembers helped familiarize members of the local fire department with the danger zones of an F-16.

"We had the opportunity to take airport personnel and emergency responders on a walk-around of the aircraft," Sergeant Carlson said. "We pointed out indicators and warning signs and provided guidance on how to react should they encounter them."

Though unexpected, the F-16 divert served as a teaching tool and afforded Airmen the opportunity to improve rapid deployability practices as well as strengthen ties with members of the Saipan community.

The mission concluded successfully and resulted in the restoration of the aircraft. Upon completion, the F-16 conducted flights to Andersen and on to Hawaii without incident, speaking to the performance of 36th Wing personnel and Saipan International officials.

"Due to the valiant effort put forth by Team Andersen Airmen and Saipan personnel, we were able to quickly and safely reopen the main runway and repair the aircraft," said Col. Donald Drechsler, 36th Wing vice commander. "The incident had a very positive outcome and allowed us to fly the F-16 back to Andersen in just a few days."