At 34,000 feet in the air, Air Force reservists flying a Charleston-based C-17 with medical patients and other personnel experienced a problem.
But relying on training and experience during the emergency, the soldiers landed the plane safely.
On Aug. 17, the C-17 operated by the Charleston Air Force Base's 315th Airlift Wing was conducting a medical evacuation mission, transporting patients from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to Kelly Field Annex base in San Antonio.
The crew consisted of seven reservists with the 317th Airlift Squadron, including loadmasters, pilots and aeromedical evacuation personnel, and a maintenance specialist with the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Also on board were seven medical patients, including surgical combat casualties and a gunshot wound victim, and other medical personnel.
During the trip, the aircraft indicated there was low cabin pressure that was caused by the blow out of a seal on the cargo ramp door, according to Maj. Wayne Capps, who serves as the 315th Airlift Wing public affairs chief.
It warranted an emergency landing.
But there were some hiccups.
While the oxygen masks on the aircraft had been inspected before the flight, some were not functioning during the emergency and had to be replaced with portable oxygen bottles.
There were also thunderstorms that the pilots had to avoid in their attempt to land. With wounded patients needing medical attention, the crew worked to find a suitable airfield.
“A lot of things were going on,” said Capt. Richard Tyner, a co-pilot on the plane. “We had the patients in mind. Ultimately, let's get on the ground sooner than later.”
The crew eventually lowered the plane from 34,000 to 10,000 feet before locating Tyson Air National Guard Base in Knoxville, Tennessee — about 150 miles out. They successfully landed the aircraft safely without injuries. A medevac flight was coordinated to take the highest need patients to their final destination and a C-130 was directed to Tyson to pick up the remaining patients.
Tyner said the crew was able to handle the situation because of their training and experience.
Members of the Air Force Reserve are former airmen and civilians who work with the armed forces on the weekends. While most of the reservists that were on the flight live in the Charleston area, there are some who live outside the state and report for duty on some weekends.
Some of the pilots on board fly for private airlines during the week. The 315th Airlift Wing reservists do operational and training missions regularly.
“From our point of view, there was no fear in that situation," he said. "We’re trained very well for things like this.”
The crew’s heroic efforts earned them the 2018 4th Air Force Aircrew Excellence Award. Col. Stephen Lanier, 315th Operations Group commander, lauded his group.
“A lot of folks think of reservists as weekend warriors,” Lanier said. “We’re extremely proud of this crew. ... They’re representative of all of our reserve crews we have here. In this situation, where a number of things were going wrong at once, they worked amazing together. It’s what we expect.”