A combination of luck, knowledge and good timing allowed Tech. Sgt. Alex McGuyver to relay critical information and help a C-17 -- without its primary radio -- safely land at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (Courtesy photo)
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A C-17 marooned at 35,000 feet without a radio. Air traffic controllers struggling to land the cargo plane safely. And a C-17 reservist, flying a private plane, who talked the big bird down.
It was just like a scene from TV's "MacGyver" — except this action hero spells his name M-c-G-u-y-v-e-r.
Tech. Sgt. Alec McGuyver was in a Cessna 340, headed from New Jersey to the nation's capital, when he heard an air traffic controller for Washington ask for quiet because of a problem with a military aircraft.
The cargo plane lost its radio and transponder after it took off Jan. 26 from its home, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
McGuyver overheard the controller, Tony Manzione, call out the plane's tail number and immediately knew it was a C-17 out of Charleston because he works there as a loadmaster with the 315th Airlift Wing.
"I hear that you're having problems with a military airplane," McGuyver told Manzione. "I'm a C-17 crew member and I might be able to help you out."
The C-17's backup radio still functioned but was stuck on its default setting: frequency 121.5, known as the "guard" frequency. The aircrew couldn't communicate with the ground on that frequency because of interference, but they could talk to McGuyver, who knew to set his dial to 121.5.
"I'm his eyes and ears now," McGuyver recalled. "I'm having to talk to the C-17 and get their altitude and send it to Washington, and send information from Washington back to the crew. It's really a very critical operation to get him down safely without interfering with other airplanes."
The C-17 crew — commander Lt. Col. Kelly Madden and four other airmen from the 300th Airlift Squadron — was prepared to divert to Dover Air Force Base, Del. McGuyver tracked down the weather information for Dover and saw a bird alert, an unusually high number of birds in the area. He recommended an emergency landing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., instead.
McGuyver changed course, flew to McGuire and circled over the base. He talked the crew members through their descent, until they were close enough to the ground for controllers at McGuire to pick up their transmissions on the guard frequency.
From the time McGuyver took control until the C-17 landed safely, about 30 to 40 minutes passed.
Manzione praised McGuyver for helping avoid a major air disaster, according to a news release issued by McGuyver's employer, Trans North Aviation.
"We couldn't have done this without Mr. McGuyver's help," Manzione said in the statement.
McGuyver has been a reservist for 22 years, 14 with the 315th and the last 11 working on C-17s. For both the radio and transponder to stop working was what McGuyver described as an "extremely rare occurrence."
"We've never had this problem since I've been on the plane," he said.
The 315th Airlift Wing commander, Col. Steven Chapman, also called the incident "rare." The systems failure on the C-17 is still under investigation, according to the wing's chief of flight safety, Lt. Col. Jason Crandall.
Chapman, in a statement, praised McGuyver and the C-17 crew for their work in bringing the aircraft down safely.
For McGuyver, the emergency landing was truly a team effort — himself, Manzione and the C-17 crew.
"You're just like, what do we gotta do to get those guys on the ground, and that's where my thoughts were," he said.
McGuyver credited his Air Force training for helping him through the crisis. Although he has experience flying only small aircraft like the Cessna, working with Reserve pilots has helped him immensely.
"Our Reserve pilots are some of the best pilots in the world," he said. "I learned from them all the good habits. … Most young people would pay thousands and thousands of dollars to go to a flight school, and they still wouldn't learn all that stuff."
The day after the crisis, maintainers replaced the C-17's faulty equipment and the crew continued their mission to Naval Air Station Rota, Spain.
McGuyver completed his trip to Washington, arriving just a little later than planned. He accepted congratulations from Manzione and the other controllers, got his crew rest and went back to work for Trans North the next day.