Aircraft incident cues Airman instinct

Plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

Plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

Plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

Plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

A shoe is trapped in plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

A shoe is trapped in plane wreckage following an aircraft incident during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wis., July 22, 2015. Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot, and Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, were both on scene helping to get passengers to safety following the incident. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Ben West)

MADISON, Wis. -- He heard commotion from the crowd. Something was about to go terribly wrong. He popped his head outside the bunker he was in and as he made his way around the corner, the earth shook and smoke poured into the sky.

It was a pilots' worst nightmare.

Instinct kicked in as he watched his buddy's feet take off into a fast sprint. Rather than running himself, he fumbled for his keys, jumped in his truck while his cousin, Don, jumped in the other side, and off they went at lightning speed -- toward the flame.

"We skidded to a stop and were the first two to get there," said Lt. Col. Ben West, 115th Fighter Wing pilot. "The right wing broke free. The left wing didn't break off. The left wing stayed attached and it stayed on fire."

As fuel was draining out of the attached left wing, and the fire continued charring the side of the plane, there was only one thing on West's mind, and that was to get those people out of there. When Maj. Michael Bracki, 126th Air Refueling Wing pilot, arrived on foot, he also sprang into action.

"By the time I got to the wreckage, they had already started pulling people out," Bracki said. "I assisted Ben and Don by getting the survivors away from the fire and administering triage, stabilizing the passengers, and passing the injury assessments I had made to the paramedics once they arrived on scene."

While Bracki was working on people outside of the plane, West went inside to get the last passenger, knowing very well that the rest of the plane could explode at any moment. When he got inside, he realized the guy in the front of the plane was pinned in.

"I reached over the seatback and got under his arms and tried to pull," West said. "He just wasn't going anywhere. When I realized he was unconscious I started slapping him and trying to wake him up. I couldn't get any response out of him and I wasn't making any headway."

As thoughts were racing through his head, West knew he had to make a judgement call.

"I thought, if I can't get him out, then I need to get out and start putting the fire out," West said. "So, I left the airplane."

Once outside, West saw one of the Oshkosh plane marshal vehicles pull up. He knew there was a fire extinguisher on the vehicle.

"I grabbed the fire extinguisher, pulled the pin and was getting ready to spray the wing, and that's when the fire trucks pulled up," he said.

West backed away and let the firemen do their job. After the fire was out, they were able to cut the last passenger out of the aircraft, leaving only his pinned-in shoe behind.

When all was said and done, the three men, who volunteered their time to put on pyrotechnics during the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention, got a bit more than they bargained for on July 22.

Although neither Bracki nor West would accredit their Air National Guard backgrounds to their actions that day, both agreed their training did not hurt the situation.

"I don't know if the Air Force training is what I would point to as far as getting me going initially, but I certainly used my Air Force triage training once I got there," Bracki said. "I didn't stand in one place and watch the airplane burn, wondering if there was anything I could do. I knew there was something I could do because of my training."

Bracki is glad his instincts jumped into play when they did.

"The memory of this accident has been a pretty rough one to have," he said. "To see something that I love so much cause pain and injury is hard, but to know that there was something that I could have done and didn't do, would be 10,000 times worse."

The lesson Bracki wanted to share was this: if the opportunity to help fellow man arises, then do whatever is possible to help.

"After talking to Ben about this, he said that seeing me run like Forrest Gump toward the wreckage is what spurred he and Don into moving," Bracki said. "You will never know the effect your actions will have unless you take them. If my taking off running got Ben and Don moving, and all three of us got to the plane and started pulling people out and helping together as a team, then I'm glad I started running."
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.