Unaware the events ahead of them, a Minot-based, seven-man B-52H
Stratofortress aircrew, HAIL 13, and their Barksdale wingman, HAIL 14,
received a call for help from the Anchorage Air Traffic Control Center,
after the pilot of a small Cessna plane became disoriented after flying into
bad weather. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld)
Minot Air Force Base's aircraft 039 taxis down the runway before taking off as part of a 17-jet rapid launch, Nov. 3, 2013. The routine exercise took a detour when the disoriented pilot of a small engine aircraft called for help in the mountains of Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Lauren Pitts)
by Airman 1st Class Lauren Pitts
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
11/13/2013 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- While the Minot-based, seven-man crew B-52H Stratofortress, HAIL13, and their Barksdale wingman, HAIL14, were flying over Alaska, they received a call for help from the Anchorage Air Traffic Control Center. The whereabouts of a small Cessna plane had become unknown after its pilot became disoriented after flying into bad weather.
Because the pilot dropped too low in altitude, ATC was unable to communicate with him over the radio, leaving him completely alone in the Alaska sky.
Capt. Andrew J. DesOrmeaux, 69th Bomb Squadron B-52 pilot, described the call they received over the radio from ATC asking for their assistance.
"They called and said they had a pilot over the radio squawking emergency and had completely lost contact with him," said DesOrmeaux. "They asked if we could try and find him and make contact. We didn't know if he was still airborne, or if we would find a crash site."
HAIL13 and its crew were approximately 200 miles away from the Cessna pilot's estimated location when they got the distress call. However, before committing to help locate the pilot, the crews of both jets needed to ensure their own well being.
"The first thing we did was calculate our fuel to make sure we had enough," said Capt. Joshua M. Middendorf, 69th BS aircraft commander of HAIL13. "We also had to ensure our wingman, HAIL14, would have enough fuel to make it back to Barksdale."
After ensuring they indeed had enough fuel to make the trip, HAIL13 headed directly west in search of the Cessna pilot.
One hundred miles into their detour, HAIL13 was able to locate and make contact with the pilot. He was flying low to the ground through a valley surrounded by rugged Alaska terrain.
"Because we were so high up, we were able to relay messages between him and ATC," explained Middendorf.
Communicating between ATC and the pilot, the HAIL13 crew relayed the weather ahead of the pilot and his best shot at finding the nearest airport.
As the pilot approached Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana, Alaska, HAIL13 was able to turn up the brightness of the air field lights over a common traffic advisory frequency, guiding the pilot safely to the ground.
"It was in the middle of Alaska on a Sunday night, there was no one there," said Middendorf. "We were probably his only chance at communicating with anyone. After our flight ATC personnel contacted our base and from their perspective, we saved his life."
Although both crews flew hundreds of miles off course, they did not allow the detour to compromise their mission.
"Something the 69th has been really mindful about is saving fuel," explained DesOrmeaux. "Because we were so diligent about being fuel efficient early on, it was no problem to go out there, fly back on course, and still make everything on time."
The fuel saved by the crew of HAIL13 in the beginning stages of the mission allowed them to fly faster back to their original course, putting them back on schedule. Not only did they meet schedule, HAIL13 and their wingman were able to complete every mission checkpoint, resulting in a successful mission.
1/23/2014 11:56:50 AM ET Awesome story I wonder what FAR violations the FAA will try to slap the Cessna pilot with after it's all said and done. Good job on everyone's role in making sure everyone was safe though.
Dajon, United States
12/4/2013 4:11:02 AM ET Today they are not heroes well incredible.
LUIS ORPINELL OATES, MEXICO
12/2/2013 7:29:43 AM ET Great story and even better work on the part of all concerned. Nice to hear some good news these days. I visited Minot many times when stationed at Shilo MB Canada. Countryside was a bit flat but very nice people and fine base. Good show for the BUFFs in rescuing the lost pilot PK
Paul Kearney LTC Retd, New Brunswick Canada
11/30/2013 8:42:52 PM ET Good job AF guys I have know doubt in my mind they saved this guy six.
Indiana medic, Indiana
11/30/2013 3:52:10 PM ET How cool is thatIt's comforting to know that if needed the big guns will come to help.
gft, Jacksonville FL
11/30/2013 9:19:47 AM ET I am proud of our service men who were concerned and compassionate. I used to fly to Minot many moons ago on a regular basis and all too familiar with the base. God bless the valiant crew.
Guru Prasad, Vernon Hills IL
11/30/2013 6:57:17 AM ET Great job guys I served at Westover 1962-64. Keep the great B52 tradition going.
Mike, Round Rock Texas
11/29/2013 11:08:29 PM ET I was an enlisted crewmember on an AC-130 and MC-130 for 24 years. Air Force flight crews are great folks. I'm not surprised this B-52 crew did what they did and were still able to complete the mission. Must be a great squadron and command to authorize such a mission deviation to help a small guy. Great work.
Ray Mansfield, Ft. Walton Beach FL
11/29/2013 7:47:50 PM ET This article is why I've always wanted to sign up for the USAF psrticularly for SARs. Only the medical gets in the way.
john d krull, United States
11/29/2013 7:02:15 PM ET Good job on the save. Now bill that Cessna driver for the fueltime for saving his hide. Pull his ticket while you are at it. He does not deserve to fly.
11/29/2013 6:28:27 PM ET A righteous diversion--well done crewsPhil WasdenGrand Forks AFB 1958-1961
Philip Wasden, United States
11/29/2013 2:56:47 PM ET I served 5 winters as a copilototAC and Standboard IP at Minot AFB 1964-69. So good you guys are still rhauling the mail. THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE
Don Cagle, StockbridgeGA
11/29/2013 12:52:31 PM ET Great job guys. Proud to be an Air Force Veteran.
11/29/2013 11:34:55 AM ET Great job guys. I'm proud to have served in SAC @ FE Warren. 1972-76
jerry hamm, Jordan NY
11/28/2013 10:00:41 AM ET I was an old SAC dude from the cold war 32150K 19th Bomb Wing B52-G Rapid City SD and Robins AFB GA. This crew and aircraft prove once again the B52 and her crews are the best of the best. The B52 still invokes fear in our enemies and American military might.
JJ Johnson, Tennessee Mountains
11/28/2013 9:20:21 AM ET Welldone guys a life saved I would say.
Amjud Siddique, UK
11/27/2013 7:45:18 PM ET Just another typical day for our great Air Force personnel. Go USAF
barry k. grimm, flatwoods ky
11/27/2013 6:36:45 PM ET Roger that. As an old D model Buff bombnav maint type I would expect no less. The Proudest years I had were in the A.F. Back then it was SAC.
Tom Zumwalt, Batesville Arkansas
11/27/2013 1:28:07 PM ET Nice job guys. It was cool to see the 69th mentioned. I was a Flight Surgeon assigned to the 69th in the early 80's when they were based at Loring AFB in Maine.
Jeff Johnson, Utah
11/20/2013 5:48:59 PM ET US Air force A Force For Good.
Bill Curtis, Guam
11/16/2013 12:01:51 AM ET Way ta go Buff. Grand Forks Vet.
Bill Bourquin, Yorba Linda CA
11/15/2013 6:58:10 PM ET Served at minot 74-81 B-52
Msgt ret Joe cornett, Hazard Kentucky
11/15/2013 6:55:38 PM ET Loved the Air Force and love Minot A.F.B Makes me proud to haved served there.
Joe Cornett A.F. ret, Hazard Kentucky
11/15/2013 5:10:40 PM ET Proud of USAF SAC and my three grandsons in AF. DesOrmeaux a good South Louisiana name
Winston Boudreaux, Church Point Louisiana
11/15/2013 1:00:42 PM ET Way to go Knighthawks You make us all proud.
Vanessa, Minot ND
11/15/2013 11:29:25 AM ET Great job guys that is what the Air Force is all about.
Dave Yanez, Arizona
11/14/2013 2:31:15 PM ET This is a great story Makes me proud to have served well done fellas