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Crash recovery and emergency management crews survey a C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 31 as it rests on the active runway of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, after receiving damage while landing Jan. 30. More than 120 Airmen, Defense Department civilians and contractors successfully removed the crippled aircraft from the runway Feb. 2 and restored full airfield operations shortly thereafter.
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Bagram Airmen Recover Crippled Aircraft
by Staff Sgt. Jason Lake
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

2/4/2009 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- More than 120 Airmen, Defense Department civilians and contractors removed a crippled C-17 Globemaster III from the runway Feb. 2 at Bagram Airfield after receiving damage while landing Jan. 30.

Emergency response crews sprang into action shortly after the aircraft screeched to a stop and base members worked around the clock to restore air operations at the airfield.

While none of the crew suffered significant injuries in the incident, the disabled aircraft presented a significant challenge to maintaining air operations...

"A lengthy runway closure is our worst nightmare at Bagram," said Brig. Gen. James M. "Mike" Holmes, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers on the 455th AEW team work extremely hard every day to make sure coalition forces all over Afghanistan can count us to be there with close-air support, airdrop and airlift, personnel recovery, and electronic attack, when and where they need it. We knew we would have to find a way to keep doing our job while our runway was closed."

Col. Tim Strasburger, the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, led a team of aviators, airfield operations members, air traffic control personnel and wing safety members to figure out how to safely continue airfield operations.

Crash recovery, emergency management, aircraft engineers and maintainers, some of whom had flown in from other bases within the theater of operations, worked tirelessly to formulate a plan and gather supplies needed to lift the more than $200 million aircraft up long enough to extend its landing gear.

"Being a first time incident did not impact our course of action. This is what we train for," said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Mixson, the lead team chief for crash recovery here. "We put together a meeting of experts on base so we could pool our resources and see what was available to work with at the time. Once we knew what assets were available we set forth an initial recovery plan outlined from the guidance provided from the disabled aircraft recovery technical order."

Lt. Col. Greg Urtso, the on-scene commander during the recovery operation, said the aircraft experts kept their focus on the recovery effort with the help of mission support personnel.

Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group provided security, construction equipment, transportation, communications equipment and lodging for experts brought in from outside Afghanistan. Medics from the 455th Expeditionary Medical Support Group took air samples inside the aircraft to ensure it was safe for personnel.

"The level of cooperation and willingness to do whatever it took was awe inspiring," Colonel Urtso said.

After more than two days of concentrated effort, recovery crews managed to lift the aircraft high enough to extend its wheels and prepare it for removal from the runway.

"We used a 120-ton crane assisted by six 26-ton airbags to finally lift the aircraft from the runway," Sergeant Mixson said. "The major lesson learned was that the technical data for C-17 recovery did not list any alternate methods. We were not able to place the airbags in the positions they needed to be because the entire fuselage section was laying on the runway. Using the crane allowed us to get the airbags into position."

Shortly after the aircraft was removed from the runway,  applauded the work of everyone involved in the safely executed recovery effort.

"I'm extremely proud of the whole team that raised the C-17," said Col. Clifton Blanks, the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group commander. "They did something that hadn't ever been done before. This event serves as another example of the true mettle of the men and women in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. While a group of folks were busy working the recovery of the C-17, much of the rest of the wing figured out a way to safely and effectively continue combat operations with our runway closed."

An Air Force safety board has been convened to investigate the incident.

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