Losses and Aviation Safety

USMC F/A-18 pilots explain how they successfully located downed civilian aircraft that led emergency response personnel to provide medical assistance to the injured

USMC F/A-18 pilots successfully locate downed civilian aircraft

Two pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112(VMFA-112) successfully located a downed aircraft that led emergency response personnel to provide medical assistance to the injured. The incident unfolded on Sep. 23, 2023, near El Dorado, Arkansas.

As told by Sandy Owens, US Marine Corps Forces Reserve, in the article VMFA-112 pilots locate crashed aircraft, VMFA-112 F/A-18 pilots, Lt.Col. Christopher Baker and Maj. Robert Lundgren were traveling from a memorial in Beaufort, South Carolina for LtCol Andrew “Simple Jack” Mettler when they heard another pilot on the same frequency in distress.

“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,” said Baker. “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.’”

Civilian aircraft with engine failure

The civilian aircraft with engine failure was flown by pilot John Wise who was assisting plane owner Jim King to their destination in Oklahoma. Once it was apparent the aircraft was not going to make it, Wise requested that someone fly over them, that is when Fort Worth Center asked Baker and Lundgren to help.

Lt.Col. Christopher Baker and Maj. Robert Lundgren, with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112(VMFA-112) successfully located a downed aircraft that led emergency response personnel to provide medical assistance to the injured.

“They were about 60 miles from us, I was able to find his ADS-B track on my tablet, we turned toward them and went as fast as we could. As we got close, he stopped responding to Fort Worth Center, and we could hear the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) going off,” said Baker.

“We notified Fort Worth Center of the ELT, and we were fairly certain at that point he didn’t make it to the airfield. We flew over the field to verify, then asked Center for their last known radar hits. I started looking for areas where he could’ve landed and saw what looked like an aircraft in a clear cut in the woods. Within about one minute of their crash, I told Center I think I see him, let me confirm. 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.”

Pilot rescued shares his appreciation for F/A-18 pilots who located his downed aircraft

Remarkably, they discovered the two souls on top of the aircraft who had managed to survive the impact. Falling back on their training, the pilots generated a GPS coordinate and relayed the location back to Fort Worth Center.

“Lt.Col. Baker and I didn’t plan on executing a search for a downed aircraft that day, but due to our training we instinctively knew how to execute a search to coordinate their location. Once he [Baker] located him, I remained up high to act as a radio relay with Fort Worth Center and flew over to mark their position. Thanks to our shared training, we were able to work together to get the coordinates back to Fort Worth Center quickly, which ultimately led to the first responders being able to find them,” said Lundgren. “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. We were relieved that their injuries weren’t worse.”

In a call with the pilot who was rescued, he shared his appreciation for the pilots who found him. “Seeing the aircraft fly over was like being in a movie where the Marines save the day. You just can’t imagine the feeling. We were in a remote logging area that wasn’t easy to get to. I am just so thankful,” said Wise.

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Baker and Lundgren combined have more than 33 years of F-18 flight experience in the Marine Corps.

VMFA-112 is a reserve US Marine Corps (USMC) F/A-18 Hornet squadron. The squadron is based at NAS/JRB Fort Worth, Texas and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 41 (MAG-41), 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (4th MAW). Their tail code is MA. According to Sea Forces, during World War II the squadron saw extensive action throughout the Pacific Theater of Operations especially at the Battle of Guadalcanal as part of the Cactus Air Force. By the end of the war, its 140 air-to-air kills ranked it third among Marine Corps squadrons.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112, was originally activated as VMF-112, at San Diego, California on Mar. 1, 1942.

Deploying shortly after to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in their Grumman F4F Wildcats, the Wolfpack joined the Cactus Air Force with Marine Aircraft Group 11. As we recently reported, on Jan. 31, 1943 Jefferson J. DeBlanc downed five enemy aircraft in a single mission, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action. In recognition of its valor and its contributions to victory during its service on Guadalcanal, VMF-112 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (US) for Aug. 7 – Dec. 9, 1942.

Photo credit: MARFORRES COMMSTRAT and U.S. Marine Corps

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  F/A-18B Hornet VMFAT-101 Sharpshooters, SH215 / 163115 – Medal of Honor. MAG-11, MAW-3, MCAS Miramar, CA – 2014
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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