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Two airborne emergencies lead to ‘unprecedented’ day for N.H. National Guard

screen shot from video of plane landing with long boom exposed
N.H. National Guard
The boom of the KC46 Pegasus refueling plane is seen dangling as it approaches for landing.

Two military planes were forced to make emergency landings on Tuesday — one at the Pease Air National Guard base in Newington, the other in New Jersey —including a refueler craft carrying seven staff members of Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, who were onboard for an orientation flight.

The incidents ended with no injuries but did make for a challenging afternoon for New Hampshire National Guardsmen.

“Busy day,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Heilshorn, director of public affairs for the Guard.

The “unprecedented confluence of events” kicked off, according to Heilshorn, with a routine invitation to members of the state’s congressional delegation. Sixteen staff members were invited to ride aboard two KC46 Pegasus refueling planes, which use a long tube to connect in midair to fighter jets to refuel them.

“They left Pease and they were set to return to Pease later that afternoon,” said Heilshorn.

But while the staffers were riding on the two New Hampshire planes, a third military plane, a C-5 Galaxy headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, experienced an onboard issue.

The C-5 Galaxies, Heilshorn explained, are massive planes that the Air Force uses to move large equipment: “They are like a big elephant flying in the air.”

The elephant plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Pease for an undisclosed problem, shutting the Pease airport for a period.

Meanwhile, the two New Hampshire-based planes with the congressional staff aboard were still mid-flight — until one of the planes also reported an emergency.

The long pole, known as a boom, that ejects out of the bottom of the refueler to connect with fighter jets wouldn’t retract. It was simply dangling off the back of the plane, limp.

Heilshorn said the plane circled for a few hours while soldiers attempted to solve the problem, but ultimately decided it would have to land with the boom exposed.

It couldn’t land at Pease, however, because Pease was still closed from the C-5 emergency landing.

The refueler was forced to reroute to a military base in New Jersey, where there is footage of it landing without issue while emergency responders stand ready.

“It landed, and thankfully, other than some minor sparking, there were no issues,” Heilshorn said. “It landed safely.”

A few hours later, another New Hampshire National Guard refueler plane already scheduled to arrive from Florida swooped down, picked up the congressional staff in New Jersey and delivered the crew back home to Pease, which by that point had reopened.

“Overall, everything worked out great,” Heilshorn said. “The response from the crew to the folks on the ground, it was phenomenal.”

On Wednesday, the congressional staff were back in the air for the second day of orientation flights, according to Heilshorn, this time riding in Blackhawk helicopters based in Concord. So far, no issues have been reported.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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