News: Crash and recovery team responds under pressure
Story by Cassandra Locke
By Staff Sgt. Cassandra Locke
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The Crash Recovery Unit is responsible for all aircraft crash recovery actions, of any service or nationality, for the Southwest Asia area of operations, with the exception of Iraq.
According to Tech. Sgt. Gregory Nichols, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, crash recovery is defined as any aircraft ground or air emergency incident that requires a response.
The team normally responds hand-in-hand with base emergency vehicles and assists the fire department with on-scene information and manpower as needed.
"We are not trained for, nor do we do, the actual emergency actions that the fire department does," said Nichols. "We are more technical advisers at that point."
When the scene being responded to is deemed safe, the crash and recovery team takes charge.
They accomplish a preliminary site survey and assess the damage, which is then briefed to the on-scene commander. Specific plans are made from there and the team then carries out the plans. They either recover or demolish the aircraft, with the two biggest determining factors being how bad the damage is and whether or not the runway is blocked.
"Most of our responses are small scale," said Nichols. "We usually respond to in-flight emergencies or ground emergencies."
The largest response the team has had here was a Navy F-18 departing the runway. Due to a damaged left, main landing gear, they had to pick up the left side of the aircraft and install wheel skates.
These are portable devices that, when installed, actually take the place of a landing gear. The team was able to tow the F-18 out of the dirt, onto a taxiway and eventually to the fighter sunshade area. There the team assisted the Navy in returning the aircraft to fully mission capable status so it could return to its carrier, the USS Nimitz.
The team had to conduct several maintenance actions to include removing and replacing the right engine and several flight controls. The incident happened on a Saturday night and the aircraft flew the following Thursday morning.
"To me, the most rewarding part of my job is actually taking a downed aircraft and, after many hours of blood, sweat and tears, watching it take to the skies again. That is one of the most awesome experiences an aircraft maintainer can have," said Nichols.
The importance of CDDAR here is two fold. First is because of all of the take-offs and landings accomplished here daily, this base cannot afford to have its runway down for days or even hours.
The team has the capability and training to have a runway cleared in less than 30 minutes.
Given the scope and magnitude of the air operations being flown here, there has to be assurances that if an aircraft goes down in the (area of responsibility), we can pick it up so that the required repairs can be accomplished to return a war fighting machine to the battle," said Nichols. "We have a long term program that is growing daily."
Nichols said they are striving to be a self-sustained CDDAR program that would require no help from outside sources.
"Right now, we can handle most contingencies, but would still have to have equipment brought in for a few airframes."