By Tech. Sgt. Rey Ramon
18th Wing Public Affairs, Air Force Link
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) --- Most of us hear stories of Airmen saving lives in combat, but an Airman who saves the lives of more than 300 passengers is definitely a story worth hearing.
A fuel leak on a civilian aircraft caught the attention of Staff Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, during a flight from Chicago to Narita airport, Japan. After alerting the pilots and aircrew, the ranking pilot made the decision to divert the flight to San Francisco.
"I noticed the leak on the left side of the aircraft right behind the wing earlier during take-off," said Sergeant Bachleda.
Sergeant Bachleda continued analyzing the outflow of fuel to be 100 percent sure it was a leak while the plane was reaching cruising altitude. Almost an hour into the flight, he told a stewardess of the possible leak, but was given an unconcerned response.
Sergeant Bachleda then began to capture the possible leak on video. He then got the stewardess' attention by saying, "Ma'am it's an emergency." He identified himself to her and showed her the leak on video.
"She was completely serious and was no longer handing out drinks," he said. "I told her you need to inform your captain before we go oceanic."
The captain came from the cockpit to where Sergeant Bachleda was sitting to see the leak and view the video footage. Sergeant Bachleda said the captain and the crew were trying to figure out how the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour and then they knew exactly what was going on.
The captain made a mid-air announcement the flight would be diverted back to Chicago, but then changed it to San Francisco so passengers could catch the only existing flight to Narita airport.
Once the flight arrived in San Francisco, Sergeant Bachleda and a coworker were asked to stay back while the aircraft was deplaned. They waited for the arrival of investigators, the fire chief, and the owner of the airport to explain what went wrong.
"When we got off the airplane everyone was thanking us," said the sergeant.
While conversing with the captain, the sergeant said he was hesitant at first to inform them about the leak, but he knew it was abnormal. The captain said they would have never made it to Japan if it wasn't for him.
(Photo courtesy of Air Force Link)
The two Airmen were placed in a hotel overnight and flew back to Japan the next morning. The airline company showed their appreciation by seating them first-class.