HomeNewsArticle Display

Crash in the ocean: Air Force aids TBM Avenger pilot

Airman 1st Class, Keith Johnson, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, performs a vehicle inspection at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., May 21, 2021. Johnson was one of the firefighters who responded to the beach April 17 to aid the pilot of a TBM Avenger that crashed in the ocean. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Airman 1st Class, Keith Johnson, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, performs a vehicle inspection at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., May 21, 2021. Johnson was one of the firefighters who responded to the beach April 17 to aid the pilot of a TBM Avenger that crashed in the ocean. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Donald Beckwith, 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron lead air traffic controller, watches a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter fly over the airfield from inside the Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., tower May 18, 2021. Beckwith led operations in the tower April 17 when a TBM Avenger made an emergency water landing near Patrick SFB. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Donald Beckwith, 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron lead air traffic controller, watches a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter fly over the airfield from inside the Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., tower May 18, 2021. Beckwith led operations in the tower April 17 when a TBM Avenger made an emergency water landing near Patrick SFB. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --

On a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, a pilot mans the controls of a TBM Avenger, a U.S. Navy warplane, as he soars over Cocoa Beach, Florida.

As he prepares to perform aerial maneuvers and entertain thousands, he soon discovers a problem. At approximately 1:20 p.m., April 17, he declares an in-flight emergency and requests permission to land immediately.

"I have a TBM Avenger that needs to land now, it is an emergency," the air boss said to the air traffic controllers in the tower at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida. An air boss is the person responsible for all aspects of operations involving aircraft during an air show.

David Beckwith, 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron lead air traffic controller, with 40 years of experience, took the call.

"We had a B-52 (Stratofortress) that just landed and needed to turn around and back taxi on the long runway" Beckwith said. "I alerted Eddie, one of our air traffic controllers, who immediately grabbed the binoculars to see if he could spot the Avenger."

Beckwith also alerted the Patrick SFB Fire and Emergency Services team, base operations, command post and medical staff about the situation. The 45th Civil Engineer Squadron FES team dispatched units to the flight line.

"I only had a visual of the TBM for a second," said Edward Terhune, 45th LRS ATC. "We were trying to get him to land on our short runway so we could keep him away from populated areas. Since we lost sight of him, I started communicating with the pilot of a Stearman biplane to see if he could locate him."

A common practice with in-flight emergencies is to have pilots change radio frequencies so they can communicate with air traffic controllers in the tower. However, given the situation and limited time, Beckwith said the decision was made to allow the air boss to maintain contact with the pilot until he was on the ground.

"We couldn't locate the TBM so I asked the air boss, 'Where is he?' Beckwith said.

"He didn't make it," the air boss replied. "He's roughly a half-mile north of the base, in the water about 50 feet off shore."

Beckwith relayed that information to the FES team who then responded to the beach, while Terhune worked with the pilot of the biplane to get updates from the crash site.

Airman 1st Class Keith Johnson, 45th CES firefighter, was a part of the team that responded to the beach, along with a medic and rescue swimmer.

"When the call came over the crash phone from the tower, we were dispatched and we were expecting an in-flight emergency near the flight line," Johnson said. "We were just coming around the back side of the station when we heard the pilot was going to land in the water."

This reality meant Johnson and his teammates had to adjust from a flight line response to a beach response and quickly.

"We have to be capable of doing that at any time, especially with an aircraft emergency because the aircraft is moving, so we need to be flexible," Johnson said. "A lot went through my mind on the way to the crash site such as the potential for multiple victims and the possible need to assist the pilot with getting out of the aircraft. But I just focused on my training."

Airmen assigned to the FES team complete training on a variety of skills each month including responding to structural fires, water rescue, hazardous material spills and medical emergencies.

"We provide many different services and we have to maintain expertise in everything we do from responding to fires to water rescue," said Mark Palm, 45th CES FES fire chief. "We have rescued people from burning and sinking boats, responded to fires and several medical emergencies. Medical responses actually account for almost half of our responses."

Once on scene, Johnson served as a spotter for the rescue swimmer as he made his way to the pilot who was already out of the aircraft. He assisted the pilot as he made his way to the shore and ensured he completed a medical evaluation.

When Johnson reflects on that day, he said one thing brings him peace.

"That beach was packed," he said. "There must have been several hundred people on the beach that day. I am thankful nobody was hurt."

Beckwith shares Johnson's sentiment and credits how well things went from a response perspective to training.

"It all happened so fast," Beckwith said. "We have checklists in the tower but we didn't have time to plot a cordon or open the checklists and find out what the next steps were. Our decisions were based on experience and instinct. We train so much we know what the checklists say. We knew we had to get the fire department out there so we did that."

Air traffic controllers at Patrick SFB complete training each month. They must also meet strict standards outlined by the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Air Force. Additionally, prior to being able to work in the tower on their own, ATCs must complete a certification program.

"I am glad everything worked out and neither the pilot nor anyone else was hurt," Beckwith said. "It could have been much worse."

Terhune agreed.

"Not every mishap has a positive outcome," he said. "I am glad there was no loss of life, because when that happens, it is brutal. That is something you carry with you forever."

Engage

Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Sharene and I take the caring and well-being of our Airmen and their families very seriously. Thank you @AirForceAssoc fo…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Everyone wants to make their mark on the world. But why make just one? https://t.co/g1iX4pzU9b
Twitter
10 years have passed since #DontAskDontTell was repealed. @UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones celebrated the milestone by… https://t.co/i1kTNvykzM
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: It’s going to take all of our Airmen, Active-duty, Reserve and Guard to secure this nation’s future. https://t.co/4P3CUiQ…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: A few years ago, only two small businesses joined us at AFA--this year we have 40+. @AFWERX works with these companies ever…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF is meeting with defense industry leaders today during the @AirForceAssoc’s #ASC21 events. In his #OneTeamOneFigh
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Our rate of change needs to increase. We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of to…
Twitter
.@AETCommand is working to remove barriers in the pilot candidate selection process. Learn more about the changes… https://t.co/ANcqVRdsNz
Twitter
.@UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones spoke on the anniversary of DADT... https://t.co/zZYqHOTp8V
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: "We are in a national, strategic, long-term contest with a formidable adversary and what you do every day is important t…
Twitter
"We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of tomorrow. Because the return to s… https://t.co/yeYvmOaOos
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Our collaboration with industry is integral to ensuring we are able to compete, deter and win tomorrow against peer adver…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Impossible ends with you. https://t.co/e6ebHtvBDg
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,377,793
Follow Us