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Decisive action earns safety awards for crew chiefs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Only a Hollywood movie studio could recreate the heroic actions of three Air National Guard crew chiefs that saved an F-16 Fighting Falcon and its pilot at Tucson International Airport one summer day in 2008.

On the afternoon of June 17, a mechanical malfunction caused a fighter jet to lose hydraulic pressure in the braking system while taxiing on the flightline. It began careening out of control and was quickly brought to a stop by maintainers who gave chase and threw chocks in front of the right main tire.

For their actions the three crew chiefs assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing will be awarded Safety Well Done Awards from both the Air Force and Air Education and Training Command in recognition of their exceptional performance in averting a potential mishap.

Tech. Sgt. Jaime Aviles, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Tibbitts and Staff Sgt. Michael Markve were recovering aircraft following the afternoon's launch when they noticed one of the aircraft taxied past its parking spot and continued to roll behind a row of parked aircraft. The crew chiefs saw hydraulic fluid streaming down the right side of the fuselage and immediately understood that the aircraft was unable to stop.

"I noticed the aircraft first. It was weird. It appeared to come in normal and then all of a sudden it veered hard to the left as it was entering the parking row and it jumped the curb," said Sergeant Tibbitts.

The pilot, returning from a routine training mission, gestured to the crew chiefs that he was unable to control the aircraft and attempted to set the parking brake, which was also non-functional. The hydraulic loss contributed to brake and steering failures. As the aircraft continued toward a line of parked aircraft the pilot dropped the tail hook as a visual signal that he had no brakes.

"At that point I started running with both chocks in my hands, and Aviles and Markve followed," said Sergeant Tibbitts. "When I caught up to the aircraft, I grabbed hold of the missile rail to keep me running because it was going fast. When Markve caught up to me I handed him a set of chocks and was like, here man, we have to get this thing stopped. With the other hand I threw my chock at the tire"

According to the maintainers, the aircraft jumped the chock, and rolled right over the curb again. The pilot shut the throttle off to slow his progress. Sergeant Aviles tossed a chock in front of the right main gear. The aircraft again jumped the chock and pivoted toward the line of parked aircraft.

"When Aviles tossed his chock, the aircraft rolled onto it and disintegrated it," said Sergeant Markve.

The attempt slowed the aircraft enough to allow Sergeant Markve to successfully plant a chock in front of the right main tire bringing the aircraft to a halt just a few feet from a parked F-16.

"I had the last chock and snapped it under the tire. The aircraft stopped and that was the end. It happened so fast. From the time it all started until it finally stopped it took about 45 seconds," said Markve. "It was interesting."

"The pilot egressed the aircraft without further incident due to the decisive and selfless actions taken by Tibbitts, Aviles and Markve," said Lt. Col. Doug Slocum, 162nd Fighter Wing chief of safety.

"The spectacular results in terms of safety record are the direct result of the collective safety-oriented mindset and approach of the people who make up the 162nd Fighter Wing," said Colonel Slocum. "The wing can be very proud to have experienced crew chiefs like these keeping everyone safe out there."

The Safety Well Done Awards recognize Airmen who make a significant contribution that affects overall mishap prevention. It is awarded to individuals who demonstrate a skill or ingenuity that prevented or reduced loss of life, injury to personnel, or Air Force property damage.

The crew chiefs will be presented the awards at the 162nd Fighter Wing Annual Awards ceremony to be held here at 1 p.m., Feb. 7, in Hangar 10.