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B-52 airmen guide lost pilot to safety

Nov. 23, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The B-52 aircrew from the 96th Bomb Squadron that recently aided the lost pilot over Alaska: From left, Maj. Matthew Lewis; Capts. Ron Thomas, Mike Owens, Justin George and Kris Hollenback; and Maj. Allen Agnes.
The B-52 aircrew from the 96th Bomb Squadron that recently aided the lost pilot over Alaska: From left, Maj. Matthew Lewis; Capts. Ron Thomas, Mike Owens, Justin George and Kris Hollenback; and Maj. Allen Agnes. (Senior Airman Kristin High/Air Force)
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Two B-52 crews recently came to the aid of a Cessna pilot who was lost in a snowstorm while flying in mountainous central Alaska.

On Nov. 3, a B-52 from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was on a training mission over Alaska when it received an urgent request from air traffic control: The pilot of a Cessna was having an emergency, but he was flying so low that controllers couldn’t reach him over the radio. They asked if the bomber could divert to the pilot’s area and try to contact him.

The call came as the B-52 was at its farthest point from Minot, so the crew had to make sure it had enough fuel for the 200-mile detour and to return home, said Capt. Keenan Boes, the radar navigator for the B-52. Thankfully, the plane had been saving fuel during the mission, so it could respond.

After trying several frequencies, the crew made radio contact with the lost pilot, said Boes, of the 69th Bomb Squadron.

“He seemed really confused and disoriented,” said B-52 co-pilot Lt. Justin Frost.

Maj. Matthew Lewis, an instructor pilot, was onboard another B-52 taking part in the exercise. He realized the Cessna pilot needed help to make it to an airport, so he and the pilot of the other bomber talked the Cessna pilot through the landing.

“We are trained to talk through students who are brand new to the military, getting them back to the field,” said Lewis, of the 96th Bomb Squadron, based at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

Boes’ bomber used its radio to remotely turn on the runway lights at a local airfield. Once on the ground, the pilot radioed a thank you to the B-52 crews.

“Air traffic control said it was in their opinion that if we hadn’t been there, he probably wouldn’t have made it home safe to his family,” Boes said.

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