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A-10 pilot ‘talks down’ civilian airplane with emergency

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) -- Maj. Pete Olson lands his A-10 Thunderbolt II after a training mission. The 81st Fighter Squadron pilot has logged about 2,500 flying hours. The major said his philosophy of training and rescue is simple: "You never turn your back, but do all you can within reason to help." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amaani Lyle)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) -- Maj. Pete Olson lands his A-10 Thunderbolt II after a training mission. The 81st Fighter Squadron pilot has logged about 2,500 flying hours. The major said his philosophy of training and rescue is simple: "You never turn your back, but do all you can within reason to help." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Amaani Lyle)

OVER GERMANY (AFPN) -- Artan Berisha (left) and Naim Fazlija make a distress call to a German radar controller. The Piper Chieftain charter aircraft pilots made the call Nov. 15 after the plane's electrical system failed. "I kept this photo because I never wanted to forget that day," Mr. Berisha said. (U.S. Air Force photo)

OVER GERMANY (AFPN) -- Artan Berisha (left) and Naim Fazlija make a distress call to a German radar controller. The Piper Chieftain charter aircraft pilots made the call Nov. 15 after the plane's electrical system failed. "I kept this photo because I never wanted to forget that day," Mr. Berisha said. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) --

“Mayday. Mayday.”

The distress call is familiar to most people who watch television and movies. But when it is made for real, it can make a pilot’s mouth go dry and his stomach cramp.

That is the feeling pilot Naim Fazlija said he had when he made the distress call to German radar controllers when his Piper Chieftain twin-engine lost its electrical system on a flight from the Netherlands to Geneva last month.

The civilian charter plane was flying at 11,000 feet over a hazy Germany.

Mr. Fazlija said he and co-pilot Artan Berisha remained calm so as not to alarm their five passengers.

“This was the first time in my 10 years of flying that I had to make a distress call like this. I was like a bird without eyes,” the pilot from Kosovo said. “There was absolutely no power in the plane except for a hand-held radio and a small global positioning system.”

Knowing he could not risk flying in such low visibility the remaining 200 miles to Geneva, Mr. Fazlija knew he needed help -– immediately.

At the same time, Maj. Pete Olson was flying his A-10 Thunderbolt II back to Spangdahlem after a training mission with three other aircraft. The 81st Fighter Squadron pilot received the distressed aircraft signal from a German ground radar controller.

“I was a little worried when I got the call, but I knew I had to act fast,” said Major Olson, who is also the 52nd Operations Support Squadron chief of A-10 wing weapons and tactics.

The major cleared his team to return to base and put his 12 years of training to work. Within minutes, he was in airspace over Baumholder, Germany, and tried to contact the civilian aircraft on the radar controller’s search and rescue frequency.

“Follow me,” Major Olson told Mr. Fazlija over his crackling radio.

But Mr. Fazlija continued flying a triangular route because he could barely hear the major’s instructions and could not even track his own speed.

Hope -- like Mr. Fazlija’s ability to see from the plane -- seemed to dwindle until he spotted something.

“I didn’t even see the A-10 coming,” Mr. Fazlija said. “His plane just appeared under mine like a rocket climbing. It was definitely something like you’d see in the movies!”

In true wingman fashion, Major Olson flew his jet around the Chieftain. He stayed in formation, at times from 10 to 20 feet, to as far away as 3,000 feet.

Mr. Fazlija said the major’s maneuvering signs were a critical factor in leading his plane under the weather to a safe landing at Hahn Airport 15 minutes later.

Mr. Fazlija said the 15 minutes seemed to elapse in the blink of an eye. But it still allowed him ample time to ponder his mortality and that of his passengers.

“I didn’t care that I might die,” he said. “I could only think that the lives of my co-pilot, passengers -- and possibly people on the ground -- could be cut short by my actions.”

Major Olson’s supervisor said the feat comes as no surprise to him.

“Certainly the outstanding airmanship and skill displayed is what I’d expect from Pete every time he flies,” said Lt. Col. John Cherrey, the fighter squadron commander. “This shows the type of decisive decision making we get from our daily combat training.”

Mr. Fazlija said the brush with disaster has only bolstered his love of flying and his gratitude to his unexpected wingman.

“I truly appreciate Major Olson and the entire U.S. Air Force,” Mr. Fazlija said. “His professionalism led us to safety. I knew we were in good hands.”

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