An F-16 pilot was nearly forced to eject from his aircraft over ISIS territory due to a fuel emergency last year, an incident that could have led to the airman’s capture or death, the U.S. Air Force said.
But the pilot was saved from having to abandon his aircraft due to the quick thinking of a nearby U.S. Air Force re-fueling plane crew.
The KC-135 Stratotanker was linked up with a group of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs in support of the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign against ISIS when it was approached by the F-16, the Air Force said on Thursday.
The first sign of trouble occurred when the F-16 attempted to re-fuel but was forced to disconnect from the KC-135 after taking in only 500 pounds of fuel — an amount that fell significantly short of the 2,500 pounds that the tanker expected to off-load.
After a second failed re-fueling attempt, the F-16 pilot ran through his checklist and alerted the tanker crew that he was experiencing a fuel system emergency.
“Over 80% of his total fuel capability was trapped and unusable,” a malfunction that could have forced the pilot to eject as his aircraft could only use up to 15 minutes of fuel at a time, the Air Force said in a press release.
Instead of leaving the pilot to fend for himself, the tanker crew decided to diverge from its area of responsibility, and safely escorted the F-16 to its base while refueling every 15 minutes on the way to allied airspace.
“Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could’ve been an international tragedy a feel-good news story,” said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “I’m sure they think it was not a big deal, however, that’s because they never want the glory or fame.”
The Air Force did not specify where, exactly, the incident took place and did not specify the country to which the F-16 belonged.
The brutal killing of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh serves as a harsh reminder of the consequences for pilots who eject over ISIS-held territory and are taken prisoner by the terror group.
Footage and images released early last year by the Islamist extremists appeared to show the pilot in a cage, being burned alive.
The video sparked global condemnation and prompted immediate promises of retaliation and protests in Jordan, one of more than 60 nations involved in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
As of February 10, the U.S. and its coalition partners have conducted a total of 10,242 strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
And despite escorting the F-16 pilot back to base, the KC-135 tanker crew completed the rest of their daily missions with 100% success, the Air Force said.