News Search
NEWS | Jan. 24, 2013

Group effort keeps heart running smoothly

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The term "air power" was put to the test Jan. 15, 2013, at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base after a late-night emergency medical flight used a closed section of the air field in order to save a life.

Due to ongoing air field construction, a section of the field is closed from 12:15 until 5:15 a.m ., everyday, and is not scheduled to reopen until March 1, 2013.
However, time was of the essence for a Learjet bound for Philadelphia. Onboard, a donated human heart with a shrinking window of a few vital hours to be transferred into a patient whose heart and life was in the balance.

The problem was, however, the pilot was unaware of the closed air field.
Larry Smith, 437th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager, received the call from tower control and decided to work with the team on the ground.

"Once the air field is closed, no flights are permitted," said Smith. "In this case an exception was made because a human life was on the line. Through life and limb , anything is possible."

For Smith, "Air Power" was the key to the mission's success.

"Teamwork and flexibility is the key to air power," said Smith. "And, without the coordination and support of everyone involved, I doubt the mission would have been successful."

Smith credited the success of this mission to the civilian air traffic controllers for translating information from the pilot to construction crew members on the flight line. Smith also thanked the crew for coming together quickly to aid in coordination of a successful take off for the plane.

The Learjet needed 4,000 ft. of runway space to take off, a significantly less amount than most planes need. The construction was on the opposite side of the air field, leaving the plane with sufficient amount of space needed take off.

"Luckily, there was enough room for the Learjet to take off," said Smith. "Letting the plane use the runway was a one-time thing, but a human life was at stake, so we did everything in our power to assist in getting the heart delivered on time and not only save the mission ... but save a life."

The team achieved their goal of clearing the air field for takeoff. Within minutes, the pilot was able to fire up his engines and lift up toward the sky. Due to the joint teamwork and quick thinking of all involved, the pilot with a heart on board didn't skip a beat in accomplishing his mission.