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Safety is no accident

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- A stomach tied in knots, a forehead drenched in perspiration, a body releasing steam as if it were a city man-hole on a cold winter's day. Having millions of thoughts simultaneously run through one's head, all of which seem out of reach, or like a puzzle which is impossible to solve.

Few people enjoy the feeling of having little-to-no control over their circumstances. However, many realize that at some point it will inevitably happen. Something, at some point, is bound to go wrong. Somewhere along the line each individual will face possible obstacles, probable injuries, and even certain death. It leaves one to wonder if there is any way to avert, or at least mitigate this fact of life.

On April 23 that question is what a C-130 crew from the 133rd Airlift Wing in Minnesota, was confronted with as they were cruising in the windy Wyoming skies in route to McChord Air Force Base, Wash. As the crew passed the Wyoming borders flying high in the sky on that fateful afternoon, their ordinary flight quickly turned into one of serious concern as two of their four engines become inoperable.

A conventional C-130H consists of four engines, engine number one and two which are located on the left wing of the aircraft as (one looks at it from the rear,) and engines number three and four which are located on the right wing. A shutdown of one engine is something a crew is trained to handle, and is something that happens occasionally. However, the shutdown of two engines, especially two engines located on the same wing of the aircraft, can be fatal if not handled properly.

"Engines number one and two, which are located on the same side of the aircraft, control the landing gear and flaps, among other functions," said Capt. Christopher Bridges, a safety officer for the Wyoming Air National Guard's 30th Airlift Squadron. Capt. Bridges went on to say that when engines one and two are not working properly, it poses a serious safety of flight issue, and creates an in-flight emergency (IFE).

On that particular day in April, the C-130 crew from Minnesota was forced to shut down engine number two due to a propeller leak. Shortly thereafter, the crew had to also shut down engine number one due to an oil leak, resulting in an IFE. This IFE left the crew with no way to auto-control the landing gear or flaps said Bridges. With both engines inoperable, the crew found themselves circling the Cheyenne skies for what they said felt like an eternity as they attempted to get the landing gear down to execute a safe landing at the Cheyenne Regional Airport.

As the IFE was occurring, the flight and ground safety offices at the Wyoming Air National Guard were notified by the command post of the incident and were preparing to prevent any further safety incidents from happening.

"We had 12 IFEs in calendar year 2012 so we are no strangers to the process," said Bridges. In this particular incident the aircraft blew a tire upon landing and incurred only minor structural damage. However, all crew members walked away without injury, which is the goal of all involved in handling IFEs, including the safety office.

"Our goal in the safety office is to prevent safety mishaps from occurring in the first place," said Bridges. However, in instances where safety mishaps do occur, "the safety office is in charge of photographing the scene, taking statements from witnesses and writing a report on our findings. This report is then briefed to command in hopes of preventing further mishaps of the same nature from occurring while simultaneously raising awareness of safety issues that might be showing a trend."

Bridges went on to say that the safety office plays a critically important role in not only mitigating safety mishaps from occurring, but also in minimizing their effects when they do occur, as they always negatively impact mission accomplishment, budgets, work hours, and most importantly, personnel welfare.

"This is a very important time of year for the safety office as the '101 Critical Days of Summer' are right around the corner," said Bridges. The 101 Critical Days of Summer is a Department of Defense initiated program that runs each year from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The program looks at past data trends within the force in regards to safety mishaps, and what the Air Force is focusing their current safety efforts on. "The program is aimed at raising awareness of common safety hazards that occur during this time of year and helping to mitigate them," said Bridges. The program has been hitting the intended goal as Bridges said the safety office had "zero mishaps reported during the 101 Critical Days of Summer last year."

A key focus of the 101 Critical Days of Summer is informing people how to responsibly operate equipment that serve as conduits for transportation and entertainment during this time of year, such as motorcycles or watercraft.

"We are in charge of providing numerous safety trainings to include not only annual motorcycle safety training, but also new commander's safety training, supervisors' safety training, and unit safety representative training," said Master Sgt. Robert Gregory, the 153rd Airlift Wing ground safety office manager. "We provide safety trainings to not only keep the member safe, but hopefully to also keep their family and friends safe, as well."

"Everyone should seek out the safety office to learn best practices when it comes to safety as we play a big role in teaching how to employ those practices," said Gregory

Simply put, Bridges said the safety office exists to "proactively disseminate safety information in hopes of preventing possible safety incidents from occurring in the first place. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and know that the safety office has the best intentions in mind when it comes to safeguarding people and resources," he said.

If all else fails, always remember, safety is no accident.