C-17 Globemaster Crew Broke Diplomatic Protocol, Saved a life, Will Get Medals

By Faye Higbee

The C-17 Globemaster had just picked up a wounded sailor from Ramstein Airbase in Germany, and was on its way back to the United States, when the patient, a sailor, took a turn for the worse. Already halfway across the Atlantic, Capt. Forrest “Cal” Lampela and his crew had to make a decision – turn around or continue on and let the man die. They chose to try and save him. Now they are up for medals.

c-17 globemaster

The flight occurred in April. The aircraft crew, call sign Reach 445, had actually planned to get some much-needed rest in Germany. But when a patient needed to get to Walter Reed Hospital outside of DC, they were the only plane big enough in theater to assist.

The aircraft crew included six USAF members: Lampela, the aircraft commander and C-17 instructor pilot; Capt. Chris Puckett, a C-17 instructor pilot; Capt. Ken Dickenscheidt, a C-17 pilot; Senior Airman Chris Kyle Bowers, a C-17 instructor loadmaster; Airman 1st Class Timothy Henn, a C-17 loadmaster; and Tech. Sgt. Nick Scarmeas, flying crew chief of the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Added to them, the patient – whose name was not released- and the CCATT team ( Critical Care Air Transport Team) added up to seventeen people on board the globemaster. The CCATT teams typically have monitors, medical gear, and ventilators, according to Col. Allison Cogar of the 313th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron.

Equipment and patient aboard, they took off for the flight across the Atlantic.

“We were approximately halfway over the ocean when the patient started to destabilize. They couldn’t get his blood levels under control. They brought enough blood for the flight, but he was bleeding out in one and, they thought possibly, two wounds. So they didn’t have enough blood to keep him stabilized. Secondly, we needed dialysis because his kidneys had failed, so they needed a hospital.” Capt Lampela

The crew looked for options. Most were too far away. The only viable one was Ireland, about two hours away. They took it, even though they had no diplomatic clearance to land there.

At 2.a.m. Capt Lampela was notified by air traffic control that fog had rolled in to Shannon airport. He had no choice at that point, he had to continue. They were going to have to do what is known as a CAT II minimum approach and land at only 100-200 altitude.

The fog was so thick they couldn’t see where the ambulance was below them.

Military.com reported:

“Keep in mind: During this time, I also have a patient who’s bleeding, and I don’t know how much time and I don’t know where else I can go,” Lampela said.

He added, “The landing itself was not eventful. But I will tell you, with a patient you have in the back, and going through 200 feet above the ground, and you still don’t see anything … you start to get really [anxious and hope] that you see the runway real quick.”

The sailor was taken off the C-17 five minutes after the aircraft landed. Soon after, Lampela was answering calls from both the Irish and U.S. embassies.

“They wanted to know several things, such as were we there to spy, or if we had anything that was not allowed in the country, such as guns or something like that,” he said.

Lampela called his chain of command in Charleston to say they would be delayed.

“I said, ‘All right, uh, don’t get mad. I declared an emergency. I’m in Ireland without diplomatic clearance or, if you hear something about me, it was warranted,'” he recalled.

Oriana Pawlyk, Military.com

Eventually, they received their clearance after they had already landed. The aircrew stayed in Ireland for 24 hours to wait for their patient to undergo surgery.

Now, the Air Force plans to give this crew the Air Medal, which is given for “single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight … in actual combat in support of operations.”

Level-headed decision making in the midst of adverse conditions. Excellent!

Featured photo: Senior Airman Kyle Bowers, left, a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster, and Capt. Cal Lampela, a C-17 pilot, are instructors assigned to the 14th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Joshua R. Maund)