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Fort Bragg pilot recognized for safe landing during in-flight emergency

By AMANDA DOLASINSKI | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 24, 2017

Stuck in a spiral, Black Hawk pilot Jay Pofcher yelled over the radio that his crew was in trouble.

He knew the UH60 Black Hawk's tail rotor had failed, preventing him from straightening the aircraft for landing. The Black Hawk went into a rapid spin for three rotations, nearly disorienting Pofcher as he tried to regain control.

"I may have blurted, 'loss of tail rotor' over the air tower," Pofcher said. "It happened so fast."

Less than 30 seconds later, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jay Pofcher, his co-pilot and the crew chief were on the ground. They were shaken up, but miraculously no one was injured and the Black Hawk wasn't damaged.

Pofcher, with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, is credited with safely landing the aircraft in September 2015. The Army has recognized his instinctive and skilled reaction with the Army Aviation Broken Wing Award — a unit safety award presented to military members who demonstrate extraordinary skill during an in-flight emergency.

Seven master aviators and two senior aviators at the Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, recommended Pofcher for the prestigious award.

"In spite of extreme circumstances which might have led to catastrophic results, a successful landing was achieved through application of the highest degree of proficiency and discretion," according to the award.

"I wish I never got the award because it scared the hell out of me," Pofcher said, chuckling in a Black Hawk hangar at Fort Bragg on Thursday. "But I never want to stop flying. I'm not going to stop training or stop doing my job."

Pofcher, a 16-year veteran with 2,500 flying hours, was leading annual training for co-pilot 1st Lt. Kelsee Hober when the tail rotor failed on Sept. 10, 2015. As a standardization pilot, Pofcher is responsible for instructing and evaluating novice pilots.

The Black Hawk had taken off from Simmons Army Airfield about 3 p.m. that day with no issues.

Pofcher said he felt the aircraft's nose slightly turning right, but didn't think much of it and continued the training.

When the crew began landing procedures, however, Pofcher said he knew they were in trouble.

Pofcher said he attempted to line the aircraft with the runway, but it turned too far right.

The aircraft took an aggressive right turn and took the crew in a spiral for three rotations.

That's when his instincts kicked in.

Pofcher focused his vision at a tower to keep from getting vertigo. He yelled over the radio that there was an emergency so the crash rescue crew would be dispatched.

Pofcher immediately pushed the aircraft's left pedal with his foot and tried to gain air speed to fly out of the spiral, he said.

He yelled for the co-pilot to turn off the engine power control levers so the aircraft could break free from the spiral. From the back of the aircraft, the crew chief was scanning the ground for a spot to land.

Pofcher said he held a lever that controlled the Black Hawk's pitch, which moves the aircraft up or down, and hit the brakes.

Pofcher was attempting to direct the Black Hawk to the runway, but ended up over a sod field near an air traffic tower.

"We bounced a couple times, but no one was hurt," Pofcher said, explaining that the field actually cushioned their landing.

The power inside the aircraft had been cut off during the landing.

"Everybody took deep breaths," Pofcher said. "I made sure everyone was OK and we waited for emergency services."

In his 15 years of experience, Pofcher said he had never experienced a tail rotor failure. Emergency procedures to deal with a tail rotor failure are taught only in a simulation and not inside an aircraft, he said.

Even with the simulated training, Pofcher said pilots struggle to safely land.

"Normally people don't walk away from a loss of a tail rotor," he said. "(For us), it was right time, right place, good crew coordination."

Pofcher pulls from that experience when he's instructing new pilots. He teaches a class about air crew coordination, and often brings up the emergency to remind crew members how critical it is to stay calm, maintain aircraft control and execute a plan for a landing.

"I want aviators to learn from this incident," he said. "I keep driving on to prevent this or be more prepared next time it happens. I'm still alive to tell my story."


©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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An UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter maneuvers with a sling loaded M1097R1 Hummvee during a sling load training event at FOB Latham pick-up zone on Fort Bragg, N.C., Dec. 7, 2016.
STEVE GALIMORE/U.S. ARMY

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