The quick judgement of the crew of a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules aeromedical evacuation flight has saved the lives of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The C-130 Hercules flies in and around Afghanistan on a daily basis, and although they are classed as routine sorties, circumstances can soon change. It is imperative that air power remains flexible, providing a vital capability in an operational environment in Afghanistan and throughout the world. The C-130 Hercules tactical air transport aircraft remains the workhorse of the RAF’s Air Transport (AT) fleet.
Air mobility continues to enable global deployment of military personnel and material, providing swift casualty evacuations from austere locations and the crew from RAF Brize Norton’s 30 Squadron were doing exactly that. The aircraft was transiting from Bastion Air Field to Kabul with a number of ANSF stretcher patients being cared for by the Medical Team on board; when unexpected weather began to affect the area. An approach into Kabul was no longer an option.
With deteriorating weather and the care of the patients potentially being compromised, the decision was made to return to Bastion, where appropriate care could be given until the weather improved. The aircraft turned back, but circumstances took a turn for the worst. One of the patients was deteriorating rapidly, and had stopped breathing. The medical team began CPR. The patient would not make the return flight to Bastion; a decision had to be made.
Flight Lieutenant Tom Mountney, the Captain, quickly weighed up the options and diverted to Bagram Air Base after consulting the medical team. This gave the patient the best chance of survival. The aircrew now had to put the plan into action; communication would be essential for a successful mission. However, due to the mountainous terrain and localised bad weather surrounding the aircraft, communication with Bagram Air Traffic Control was not possible. Messages had to be passed via an American call sign, which was closer to Bagram; and vital directions were relayed to the aircraft to provide a safe passage to the airfield.
Co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Martin Bridge was dealing with the complications of handling an aircraft in difficult weather, and regardless of the directions being received, he still had to navigate through the bank of thunder storms in order to reduce the turbulence in the aircraft.
From the moment the Weapons System Operator (WSOP) Crewman, Sergeant Matthew Wade told the flight deck about the severity of the situation, everyone pulled together. The Ground Engineer (GE) on board, Chief Technician Kevin Turner used his wealth of air force experience to provide an extra pair of hands to the rest of the crew.
The aircraft performed a rapid descent into Bagram after declaring a ‘Mayday’ and Emergency Services were on hand to assist the medical team with the patients as soon as they touched down.
Flight Lieutenant Tom Mountney said: ‘This sort of flight is our bread and butter in Afghanistan, but it is very rare that it turns into a situation like this. Decisions had to be made quickly and the whole team worked brilliantly together, achieving a positive outcome. I couldn’t have asked any more of the crew’.
Crewman Sergeant Matthew Wade said: ‘The medical staff onboard the aircraft are very good at what they do. It’s very hard to work around the stretchers, and medical equipment; there are a lot of hazards when working in such turbulent conditions’. He added: ‘They did an excellent job’.
Fight Lieutenant Martin Bridge said: ‘The whole thing was only about 10-15 minutes. It’s difficult to keep track of time when so many things are happening.’ He added: ‘Bagram were brilliant; the minute we touched down they were all waiting for us. They gave our aircraft priority to ensure the patients got the treatment they required.’
Chief Technician Kevin Turner said: ‘It’s really important that we work well together, and it was a good team effort. Most importantly there was a successful outcome and the patients are now recovering.’
Due to the flexibility of the aircraft, and the outstanding medical care provided all patients are now recovering. The C-130 Hercules crews continue to work alongside their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners; ensuring support is available when required.
Editor: Flt Lt Lee
Photographs: Sgt Hunt
Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules.
RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013