[credit provider=”US Army via flickr” url=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/6642558345/sizes/m/in/photostream/”]
On Friday December 30, when most Americans were finalising New Year’s plans and slipping out of work early, an Apache helicopter crashed in northern Afghanistan stranding two U.S. pilots deep in hostile territory.Though they survived, they had no way to get back to base and were in more danger with every passing minute.
Their mayday call was picked up by a circling KC-135 Stratotanker, on hand to refuel patrol planes, and relayed to an E-3 Sentry. The Sentry is a flying command centre that coordinates all military action within 250 miles and perfectly equipped to choreograph the rescue.
With enemy forces nearby and likely en route to the Apache crash site, the first thing the Sentry crew did was call in two F-16s to protect the pilots on the ground. At the end of their patrol, the F-16s were nearly out of fuel, so the tanker that took the original call topped them off while a convoy was dispatched from the nearest base.
By the time the convoy showed up and piled the down pilots into rescue vehicles, the F-16s had to return to the airfield and a pair of A-10 Thunderbolts arrived to take their place.
Kept aloft by another KC-135 Stratotanker, the A-10s provided air support as the convoy wound its way back home and delivered everyone to safety.
The captain of the Sentry, the ship that coordinated the manoeuvre between the Army, the Airforce and troops on the ground said in an Air Force press release, “That kind of orchestration is what we do.”