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Dover Airmen stabilize C-5 crash site

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief responded to an emergency notification here April 3, he wasn’t sure what to expect. 

“Anytime you see an aircraft not sitting on its wheels, it is worse than you expected,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dwight Davis.

More than 20 firefighters arrived to find a downed C-5 Galaxy broken into pieces, lying on a grassy patch of land on the south side of the base. 

“You just have to put your emotions aside and let your training take over,” said Airman 1st Class Joseph Wysocki, a 436th CES firefighter who arrived on scene around 6:40 a.m.

After personnel rescued the 17 survivors and made the site safe, their next priority was to stabilize the area and collect critical information for the Safety Investigation Board, or SIB.

“It seemed weird to work on this (kind of) aircraft every day, and then you see (one) in three pieces … it’s pretty shocking,” said Senior Airman Kris Blake, an aero repair journeyman with the 436th Maintenance Squadron.

He and his co-workers inserted wooden shoring, resembling giant multi-layered children’s toy blocks, underneath the aircraft sections to stabilize them. Without shoring, investigators and recovery workers couldn’t enter the wreckage because of the potential for the more than 800,000-pounds of metal to roll over. 

Specialists from units throughout the base have worked at the crash site day and night to help gather data.

“I was struck by the eager reactions of so many young Airmen who just wanted to help,” said Capt. Justin Longmire, 9th Airlift Squadron chief of safety. He served as the interim investigating officer until the official SIB convened days later. 

“They all wanted to stay late, work hard and do whatever they could to help with the process,” Captain Longmire said. 

In the interim, before the SIB convened, Dover Airmen quickly made the transition from securing the crash scene to one of preserving and collecting information to help investigators form a “big picture” overview of the mishap. 

One crash site specialist believes a picture, or in this case a diagram, is truly worth a thousand words, especially for accident inspectors who need to understand a million pieces of the accident puzzle. 

“We assist the board by marking information (like bits of debris and skid marks) and determining how far it is from the aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Richard Penny, 436th CES survey and drafting shop engineering superintendent. 

His office produces diagrams and maps for investigators to reference again and again.  They have been working around the clock since the crash to provide map coordinates that pinpoint the location of each piece of evidence scattered around the aircraft. 

They also help provide board members a broader picture so they can try to build a sequence of crash events. 

The survey and drafting specialists also help determine where the plane first hit and include details such as when the wing tip lodged into the ground and the wheels came down. 

Airmen weren’t the only ones to glean lessons from the crash. Dover leaders also found ways to extract lessons learned from the situation. 

“(Air Force bases) have an immediate action plan for mishaps like this, which are reviewed annually,” Captain Longmire said. “Wing leaders review the plans and solicit inputs from each organization involved in the process, which results in a plan that gets better each year.” 

The day of the crash, and in those that followed, that plan provided a solid foundation for hundreds of Dover Airmen to blend together seamlessly, he said. They executed the plan as they previously trained.

“From my perspective, I observed the Dover team shift decisively from our normal everyday mission to emergency response and recovery," the captain said. "It was quite impressive to witness, and an honor to be involved in the process.” 

The SIB is convened after a Class A mishap to investigate the circumstances surrounding the event and make recommendations to prevent similar occurrences. Class A mishaps are those defined by one or more categories -- loss of life or aircraft, or costs that exceed $1 million.

The SIB includes professionals such as pilots, maintenance personnel and airframe specialists, from around the Air Force and DOD, as well as civilian contractors.

The team has approximately 30 days to investigate and forward their conclusions and recommendations to the convening authority. In this case, it is Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander of Air Mobility Command.

The SIB investigations are privileged information and only a limited number of people have access to the information. The SIB results are not released outside Air Force safety channels or to the public.

After the SIB concludes an Accident Investigation Board, or AIB, is convened. The AIB is also chartered to investigate the circumstances surrounding the mishap. Unlike the SIB, the AIB produces a report that is later released to the public. The AIB also has approximately 30 days to complete its investigation, but the board sometimes requires more time. Members of the SIB cannot participate on the AIB.