POMEROY — On Aug. 7, 2015, Codey Gerlach, 26, of Wichita, Kan., and formerly of Pomeroy, along with Aircraft Commander Capt. Patrick J. Rish and co-pilot 1st Lt. Marc D. Nelson, were tasked to support the deployment of equipment from Elmendorf Air Force Base to Misawa Airbase in Japan.
Along with the main jet on the journey, other planes fly alongside. As a boom operator, Gerlach has the responsibility of fueling other airplanes in flight.
“Usually, when I’m talking to people on the outside (of the military), I say I’m an official in-flight refueler,” Gerlach said.
However, mid-flight in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, one of the fighter jets flying along experienced a cabin pressure failure and disconnected from the main aircraft in a rapid drop.
“It wasn’t personally scary for me, but it wasn’t our plane,” Gerlach said. “We were over the Pacific, so we weren’t around any land.”
The trio of the main jet declared an emergency over high frequency radio, and were able to support the aircraft by relaying weather information and assigned clearances. With their help, the jet needing assistance was able to divert to Eareckson Air Station in Shemya, Alaska.
The trio on the main jet also coordinated with the Tank Airlift Control Center through satellite in order to deliver equipment to the station for repairs. However, while Gerlach said a day like that wasn’t an ordinary day, the day was about to be even more unusual.
“It happened to another plane at the same time, and all that happened extremely fast, at 20,000 feet at 600 miles per hour, with two-and-a-half hours in between (each malfunction),” he said. “That is uncommon. To happen once, sure, but to happen twice to two different jets, it doesn’t happen a lot.”
Gerlach said that in both cases the errors were mechanical, not human. He, along with Rish and Nelson, received an Air Force safety award, which is under the safety category Excellence in Airmanship, for safely operating their own aircraft while assisting others in distress, Gerlach said.
“All three of us were coordinating on it,” he said.
Gerlach joined the Air Force in September 2010. He became mission-ready at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, where he now resides. He said he still flies all the time with 1,300 flying hours under his belt, and is an instructor for future boom operators.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555.