Refueling Crew Saves US Pilot Over ISIS Territory
F-16's fuel system had a glitch that would've been bad news if he'd had to eject
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2016 7:29 AM CST
In this June 22, 2011, file photo, a Lockheed Martin F-16 jet fighter performs at the 49th Paris Air Show.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

(Newser) – An F-16 fighter pilot's aircraft suffered a fuel system malfunction at perhaps the worst possible time—flying over ISIS-held territory—but the crew of a military refueling tanker stuck with him, likely saving his life, the Air Force Times reports. "Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could've been an international tragedy a feel-good news story," Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg says, per a press release. In the incident that reportedly happened last year, a KC-135 Stratotanker, which can haul up to 200,000 pounds of fuel, was topping off A-10s in the unidentified region when the F-16 came along to gas up. But though the F-16 was supposed to take in 2,500 pounds of fuel, a "pressure disconnect" issue wouldn't allow more than 500 pounds.

That's when the KC-135's crew really came to the rescue. Instead of stranding the pilot, the Stratotanker stuck by the F-16's side until it got back to its base, refueling every 15 minutes to keep it airborne. And that pilot would have had ample reason to worry, even if he had safely ejected and landed on the ground, notes Sky News: In December 2014, a Jordanian pilot crashed in Syria and was captured by ISIS members and burned alive. "The first thought I had … was extreme pride for the crew in how they handled the emergency," Hallberg says. "I'm sure they think it was not a big deal. However, that's because they never want the glory or fame." (These Air Force specialists risk their lives to check the weather.)