MAFFS crew receives award for actions during emergency landing

(Last Updated On: January 15, 2015)
MAFFS 3 hard landing
The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base on August 17. There were no injuries. Photo supplied by the Air Force, originally from Fox 13.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A guard, reserve and active duty aircrew aboard a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130H3, recently received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for its efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah on August 17, 2014..

The Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) #3 air tanker crew had finished two successful fire retardant drops when it was instructed to reload for a third drop at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. As the crew prepared to land, Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and his co-pilot, Maj. Derik George, noticed the nose gear wasn’t functioning properly. At that point, the crew, including the navigator Capt. Brett Goebel, flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese, began troubleshooting the problem. Berquist also began communicating with Hill Air Force Base’s air traffic control about the issue.

MAFFS 3 nose gear problem
Greg Brubaker sent the photo below to Fire Aviation. He said he noticed the aircraft was flying in the area for over an hour and he observed that the nose gear was not visible. Photo by Greg Brubaker.

After two hours of circling and with only about 30 minutes of fuel remaining, the crew realized they had exhausted all of their options. That’s when Berquist directed his crew to prepare for an emergency crash landing. Preparations included having Hill officials spray foam on the runway and having crash fire rescue personnel in place.

After configuring the disabled aircraft, Berquist landed the plane and held the nose up off the ground as long as possible, before gently bringing it in contact with the runway. Berquist was able to bring the aircraft to a smooth stop on the center of the runway and the crew exited the plane without any injuries.

The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.

“In-flight emergencies and emergency landings do happen,” said Goebel. “We train extensively year-round in the aircraft and simulator for unlikely events such as these.

“Without a doubt, we provide some of the best training and preparation of any professional flying organization from not only an individual, but also a crew standpoint. This was definitely a crew effort!”

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Fire Aviation first reported on the incident August 17, 2014.