Two US Marine Corps F-18 Hornet pilots helped to locate the crash site of a civilian aircraft, facilitating a swift emergency response.
On September 23, 2023, a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza aircraft took off from Gulf Shores-Edwards Airport (GUF) in Alabama en route to Oklahoma City-Sundance Airport (HSD) in Oklahoma with two people on board. However, after reporting an engine failure, the pilot attempted to divert to El Dorado Downtown Airport.
In the meantime, two pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112 (VMFA-112) were flying from a memorial in Beaufort, South Carolina back to their home base, NAS JRB Fort Worth in Texas, when they heard a distress call on their radio.
“When we checked in with Fort Worth Center on our newly assigned frequency, we heard, ‘pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, I have a rough running engine, I need the nearest airport.’ Initially, we were just listening unaware of the aircraft’s location,” Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Baker, one of the pilots, explained in a press release. “In a matter of seconds, the pilot came on the radio, and said ‘mayday, mayday, mayday, we aren’t going to make it, we lost our engine’.”
Baker managed to locate the ADS-B signal of the distressed aircraft, and the two fighters rushed towards its position. As they closed in on the scene, the situation became increasingly critical as the civilian pilots lost contact with Fort Worth Center and activated their Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT).
The Marine Corps pilots flew over the last known radar position of the aircraft for visual confirmation of the situation on the ground.
“Within about one minute of their crash, I told Center ‘I think I see him, let me confirm’,” Baker explained. “As I got closer, I could see the aircraft, then went down low to confirm the condition of the pilots. When I flew over the top of them, I could see two people standing on the wing waving.”
The crash site was found in a wooded area near the Hibanks community, southeast of El Dorado. The pilots sent a GPS coordinate to Fort Worth Center, which then led to the first responders being able to find them. According to local news reports, both occupants sustained only minor injuries.
“It’s a terrible situation when you hear something like that happening over the radio, and it was amazing to offer assistance to get emergency services out to them as quickly as possible,” said Major Robert Lundgren, the second Hornet pilot, who acted as a radio relay with Fort Worth Center and circled the crash site to help responders to locate it. “We were relieved that their injuries weren’t worse.”
On July 10, 2023, French, Canadian, and US military pilots found themselves in a similar situation as they were conducting an exercise above the waters near Guam, in the western Pacific Ocean. They received a distress call from a fishing vessel, disabled and adrift. Joining forces, they enabled the rescue of all 11 people on board.