On August 28, 2023, the crew of RCH217 performed admirably when faced with a “left wing bleed air leak, not isolated” warning at 23,000 feet and 160 knots on initial climb out from Ramstein Air Base (AB), Germany. The crew was in and out of light icing, attempting to climb above the weather on their way to Souda Bay, Crete, as part of a unit deployment to Ali Al Salem AB, Kuwait. The Aircraft Commander (AC) immediately directed the copilot to continue flying the aircraft while he and the extra pilot began reading through the checklist for the bleed air leak condition. The aircrew aboard RCH217 performed the “L Wing Bld Air Leak (not isolated)” checklist and began a descent to 10,000 feet. When conditions remained unchanged after isolating the system for two minutes, the crew initially determined the need to land at the nearest suitable airfield and declared an in-flight emergency to minimize the risk posed by an uncontrolled bleed air leak. The copilot began coordinating over the radio with Air Traffic Control for the emergency declaration and an immediate descent while the AC took control of the aircraft and the extra pilots continued to research checklists and additional steps to take to try to isolate the bleed air leak and risks posed by the icing conditions. At this time, smoke and fumes began to enter the flight deck and cargo compartment, forcing all aboard to don oxygen masks, which complicated internal and external communications. The loadmasters and flying crew chiefs began providing critical information to the pilots about the amount of smoke and conditions in the back of the aircraft. The decisive actions and well-coordinated crew resource management demonstrated by the crew of RCH217 ultimately saved 10 lives and a $77 million aircraft.

Crew of RCH217, 61st Airlift Squadron (AS), Little Rock Air Force Base (AFB), AR:

Capt Andrew Maurer, Aircraft Commander
Lt Michael Whalen, Copilot
SrA Jason Henderson, Instructor Loadmaster
A1C Drake Nystrom, Loadmaster

Also on Board:
Capt Jackson Sloan and Capt Jeffery Spurgin, Pilots, 61 AS

TSgt Cody Dorsey, SSgt Nathaniel Gissinger, A1C Julien Dupont, and A1C Brayden Robinson, Flying Crew Chiefs, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Little Rock AFB, AR