Travis C-5 crew recounts enemy attack

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- C-5 missions to Baghdad International Airport are typical, but never routine. On Jan. 8, the treacherous nature of flying into the airport was clearly demonstrated when hostile action from the ground destroyed the No. 4 engine of a Travis C-5 shortly after takeoff. Because of key training and preparedness, all 11 crewmembers, 52 passengers and the aircraft made it safely back to the ground.

"I did a normal, tactical departure out of the airport and shortly after takeoff, I saw a bright orange flash out of the right window, followed by an explosion and the entire plane shuddered," said Capt. Steve Radtke, a co-pilot on the mission during the attack, which occurred at 6:20 a.m. Baghdad time.

The crew declared an in-flight emergency and conducted an emergency shutdown of the large, powerful engine, which is located at the far side of the right wing. The General Electric TF-39 engine develops 43,000 pounds of thrust and is more than 8 1/2 feet in diameter.

"My eyes were on the (flight engineer's) panel to make sure we didn't lose any systems. It was a coordinated effort by the whole crew," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Troutt, instructor flight engineer. In fact, student flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Marcus Rettig was at the panel during the emergency and "performed flawlessly," according to Sergeant Troutt.

The passengers, who were all military personnel, were briefed about the situation as the huge transport returned to the airport on three engines.

"There were some shocked faces when the plane got hit, but everyone remained calm. I told the passengers we had declared an in-flight emergency, and we were returning to the airport," said Tech. Sgt. Reggie Bazemore, instructor loadmaster.

The plane landed safely and emergency crews immediately responded. No one was injured. The entire flight only lasted a few minutes but the memory of the experience will last a lifetime, according to the crew. The experience was especially extraordinary for Airman Mohammed Seidu since it was his first C-5 mission and first flight in Air Force, which is called a "dollar ride." At age 19, Airman Seidu is also the youngest member of the 22nd Airlift Squadron.

"We are trained for the worst-case scenario. It was great to see how everything we train to do actually works. I was impressed by how smoothly everything went," Captain Radtke said.

The attack was the second time in less than a month in which enemy fire struck and forced down an Air Force aircraft shortly after taking off from Baghdad International Airport. On Dec. 9 a C-17 Globemaster was struck in its No. 2 engine.

The first successful attack on a plane leaving Baghdad International Airport occurred Nov. 22 when a civilian Airbus A300 cargo jet flown by DHL was hit on the left wing by a Soviet-designed Strella SA-7 shoulder-launched missile. The DHL crew lost use of many of the plane's flight controls, but they were able to land the cargo jet back at Baghdad.

An Air Force team from Europe was dispatched within hours of the C-5 attack to inspect the cargo jet. They have begun the repair process and determining what struck the engine. Airmen with the 8th Expeditionary Maintenance and 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadrons removed the No. 4 engine Jan 14 at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia. The plane will eventually return to Travis.

Attacks by anti-aircraft missiles or other weaponry are a dominant concern when flying to Iraqi bases. Travis C-5s have landed at Baghdad since the summer of 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and aircrews receive extensive training to prevent and mitigate hazards. Aircrew members can spend more than 200 days deployed per year.

"Our job can be dangerous but we have great support and preparation," said Capt. Zach Zeiner, aircraft commander. "Our families and squadron are very helpful and understanding. This is what we are trained to do. We have great respect for the people who are on the ground, facing these dangers every day."