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This series of photos details an incident that happened at Lajes (Azores) in 1981. Read the story from John Gordon, one of the loadmasters on this aircraft, following the pictures.

Notice the landing gear near the tail!!!

Landing at Lajes

C-141 Emergency Cargo Jettison

It was June 28, 1981. I was on my Loadmaster initial line check. We got loaded out of McGuire and headed for Mildenhall on the old 707 mission on aircraft 60157 with a stop at Lajes first. After the off and on load at Lajes, we buttoned up everything and got ready for take-off. We took-off with 28 passengers and 10 pallets of cargo. Upon lift off, the Instructor Flight Engineer jumped out of the flight station and ran to the left main gear section and looked inside the panel. When he came back I figured something was wrong by the way he hung his head and the look on his face. I hadn't heard much chatter over the intercom, since we couldn't monitor ATC, until he came back and told the pilot "I can't see anything."

What had happened was, just as we lifted-off, the tower told us they saw a spray of hydraulic fluid come from the left gear pod at the same time we got an unsafe indication on the landing gear. At that point the AC leveled the plane of at a safe altitude so the IFE could open the inspection window to see what the problem was. This time he took the scanner's cord with him to explain what he saw. He reported that the Main Landing Gear was caught in the gear doors. At this point the AC mentioned the possibility of a crash landing. I thought I'd better wake up my Examiner and tell him something's wrong.

He went upstairs to find out what was going on and came back and told me to get my -1 out and go over my Emergency Procedures. While all this was going on they got the sky-hook up and were talking to 21st AF, McGuire's Command Post and anyone else who needed to be in on this matter. Someone in 21st told the IFE to take a tie-down chain and wrap it around the gear and pull it in. The IFE got a tie-down chain out and went to the MLG area to perform this task. When he got back there, he looked at the gear, looked at the chain, looked at the gear again, shook his head and went back to the flight deck. He then asked how many times that had been done. The answer he got was," it works on C-130's," so needless to say, he didn't do that maneuver. Then there was talk of flying back to McGuire at 10,000 feet since we couldn't pressurize, but we didn't have the gas for it. A tanker that had just taken off in front of us heard the conversation and volunteered to fly west and refuel us when we got low, but the AC was not AR qualified. They called Mildenhall to see if we could crash land on their field, the British told us no way. They knew better than to consider Rhein-Main since that is an international airport. So after a couple of hours of trying to figure out the best solution the Portuguese, who had been monitoring the sky-hook, told us to bring it back into Lajes. Back then they literally had to push a button to allow us to talk and release for us to listen, so they knew what was going. No one on the American side wanted to mention or take responsibility for tearing up their field since a commercial airliner uses the runway too.

So now that the decision was made to crash land at Lajes, landing configuration was discussed. Since we had been flying around their field this whole time, we burned off a lot of fuel which would help the plane land light. It was at this point they decided that we needed to land as light as possible and to perform an Emergency Jettison. The jettison would be over the water between 10 -50 miles out. We basically dropped a pallet on each pass back and forth.

Now my Examiner told me to work up a jettison plan so the plane would not go out of CG during the jettison. Once I fumbled through that, he told me to get the restraint harnesses out. I then briefed the passengers, who were in aft facing seats, that we had an emergency and they had to remain seated with their seat belts fastened. One little girl saw us getting into the restraint harnesses, thinking they were parachutes, asked if we were getting ready to leave them? I assured her we weren't leaving. As we walked to the back of the plane, the pax could see most of what we were doing. We released the ramp pallet and let it bump up next to the pallet in pallet position 12. We then released the vertical lips in 12 and 13 and lashed the ramp pallet to the pallet in 12. I then opened all the pallet locks on the left hand side. We then let the AC know the cargo compartment was ready for jettison. I forgot who opened the doors, but they came open. I was on the left side, while the examiner released the pallets using the aft restraint latches on the right side. Most of the pallets kind of sailed out except for 1 pallet that dropped straight down. Me and the examiner looked at each other thinking ramp damage and motioned for me to check it out. That was my first and last time looking off the edge of the ramp in-flight. I saw no damage, so we continued on with the jettison until all 10 pallets were gone. After the jettison, one of the pax said it looked real clean back there, where did we put their luggage. I explained their bags were on the ramp pallet and was the first to leave. Our pallets consisted of 5 pallets of rations for Athens, 4 pallets of household goods and a FiFi pallet on the ramp.

Now that the plane was free of cargo and down to 10,000 pounds of fuel, we could make the crash landing. The plan was pin the nose gear and right MLG and keep the nose up as long as possible and let the plan slide to a stop. They didn't want to foam the runway because that would have taken away any possibility of controlling the airplane. So they dropped the landing gear so the good ones could be pinned. That is when the piston of the left MLG fell out of the strut sleeve and was hanging the scissors linkage.

The AC landed as far right of the center line as possible, and when the air speed dropped the plane rested on the left side and the left MLG broke off during the slide. The films showed the MLG bounced as high as the MAC stripe on the t-tail. The plane stopped about 2 feet off of centerline. Once the aircraft came to a halt, the IFE beat me to the crew entrance door and opened it up. Before I could tell the pax to evacuate, they were already coming.

The crew entrance ladder was removed and stowed in the latrine to facilitate a faster evacuation. The IFE went outside and I stayed inside to ensure all the pax got off. Once all the pax were gone, I jumped out too. Once the engines were shut down, the rest of the crew jumped out. The whole evacuation went without a single injury. No bumps and scrapes, not even a twisted ankle from jumping out of the plane. By now the fire department was on the scene ordering us to where to go for safety.

That was my "15 minutes of fame", that got me into the C-141 history books.

By the way, I did not pass my check ride because I needed two on loads and offloads. They would not count the jettison as my second offload.

John Gordon




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