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A Cross Country Flight from Hell

A Cross Country Flight from Hell

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MICHAEL MURRAY

It was my fourth tour and the mission was changing daily. We had been in country for about two weeks and were still trying to get set up on Bagram Airfield. Word came down we were tasked to provide an air weapons team to support a coalition clearing mission to the south of Ghazni, and our command put out the crews and tail numbers of the aircraft involved. We were to depart Bagram the next morning, refuel once at Forward Operating Base Dahlke and once at FOB Eagle, and continue to Kandahar. We preflighted the night before and placed our gear in the aircraft. We then completed the run-ups and our aircraft were ready for the next morning’s departure.

The next morning we were given our weather brief and approval to depart with marginal weather over the passes due to blowing dust. We covered our inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions plans and abort procedures in our air mission brief and headed to the aircraft.

Not long after leaving the Bagram bowl, we started to see the building dust storm blowing north. The radio calls between the flights quickly turned to weather and if we should continue. The air mission commander, who was also the company safety officer, made the call to abort the mission and head back to Bagram Airfield. Upon returning to Bagram, we were hit with questions from the command about why we didn’t push through the storm. We were then re-briefed for lower weather and sent back out to try again. The dust storm had started dying down, so we decided to push through it to Dahlke.

The rest of the flight to Dahlke was pretty uneventful and most of the communication between the aircraft was pointing out landmarks and how things had changed from the prior deployment. As we came into the TAC-Ring of Dahlke, we quickly realized the place had changed immensely from the prior tour when it was called Shank. We slowed back and took lead for the approach. We were in Echo model Apaches. The extra power made the approach very smooth and we had no trouble getting into Dahlke’s tight confines. I pulled our aircraft up to the fuel house and started to go through the checklist for hot-refuel.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the trail aircraft coming over the final wall into parking. As he pulled power to arrest his decent, everything slowed down. His right outboard weapons pylon, which was carrying a Hellfire launcher with two missiles, fell from the aircraft. All I could think about was that a fall from 25 feet should not be happening. As the missiles and rack impacted the ground, the missiles disintegrated and came off the rails. The aircraft continued forward and set down just forward of the impact point.

I immediately called to tell the pilot to move his aircraft away and let him know he lost a pylon. He had no indications in the aircraft that the launcher had separated. We quickly got our aircraft back to 100 percent and pulled pitch to get distance from the missiles, which were now blowing propellant and pieces across the flight line. Both aircraft got clear and the explosive ordnance disposal team came to retrieve and dispose of the two missiles.

What a day it had started to be. After reporting the incident, we were surprised to hear they wanted us to continue south to Kandahar. We continued south and the rest of the flight was filled with conversation about how the events happened. Upon landing at Kandahar, an investigation was started to figure out the cause of the accident and, of course, who or what was at fault.

The investigation revealed that our crew chiefs, in a rush to prep our aircraft, had removed the missile rack by mistake. When they realized the error, they reconnected it — without inspection or paperwork — and sent us on our way. It was later discovered that several aircraft had weapons removed and reinstalled without paperwork or inspection. Discipline was handed out and the fleet was inspected.

We were extremely fortunate that day. Command pressure to make mission and a lack of discipline in our crew could have resulted in a deadly accident. We counted our blessings that two missiles were all we lost that day.

  • 28 May 2017
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1111
  • Comments: 0
Categories: On-DutyAviation
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