News Plane incidents — 03 April 2017

An Offutt-based Air Force jet and crew were grounded in Indonesia for a week after the plane was forced to make an emergency landing there March 24, Air Force officials confirmed in a statement released late last week.

The statement Thursday from the Pacific Air Forces command in Hawaii did not identify the aircraft. But photographs circulated by the Associated Press show that it is a WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft operated by Offutt Air Force Base’s 55th Wing.

The wing’s two Constant Phoenix jets contain equipment capable of collecting atmospheric samples in order to detect and identify the fallout from nuclear explosions.

Indonesian Air Force officials told the AP that the plane was carrying a crew of 20 and was en route from the island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, when it developed problems with one of its four engines early in the afternoon of March 24.

The crew declared an in-flight emergency and diverted to the nearest airport, Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the Pacific Air Forces statement said.

The plane was met by firetrucks and emergency vehicles, the AP reported. No crew members were injured. The incident happened in the early morning hours Omaha time.

As of Friday, the crew was still in Indonesia. Air Force officials declined to estimate the cost or duration of the repairs.

“We are working closely with our partners in Indonesia to ensure the well-being of our airmen as well as the safety of the aircraft,” the Pacific Air Forces statement said.

The four-engine jet, No. 62-3582, was delivered to the Air Force in 1964 and became an EC-135C “Looking Glass” aircraft, one of which remained continuously airborne during the Cold War in order to provide redundant communications for the president in case of a nuclear war. The EC-135C was converted for use with the Constant Phoenix program in 1998.

A review of in-flight incidents from 2012 through 2016 shows no previous mechanical problems involving the aircraft’s engines — although a compressor stall caused a 25-foot fireball to shoot from one engine during an aborted takeoff from Kadena on June 12, 2014. A compressor stall occurs when the flow of air through a turbine engine is disrupted. A report on the incident did not indicate the cause.

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