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Pilot helps with emergency landing
Capt. Mark Gongol, 13th Air Support Operations Squadron assistant director of operations at Fort Carson, helped land a commercial 737 Dec. 30 when the pilot had a medical emergency. The pilot has since recovered, due in part to Gongol helping with the emergency landing. Gongol is a B-1B Lancer pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Local USAF pilot helps in airline emergency

Posted 5/28/2014   Updated 5/28/2014 Email story   Print story

    


by Staff Sgt. Jacob Morgan
21st Space Wing Public Affairs


5/28/2014 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Most people think that during an emergency they would step up to the plate, act heroically and do what is necessary to save lives. Thinking one might rescue the day is a noble thought, but acting on those thoughts is what sets the nation's heroes above noble thinkers.

"Every pilot thinks 'what would I do if this all goes wrong' on an aircraft they are not controlling," said Capt. Mark Gongol, 13th Air Support Operations Squadron assistant director of operations at Fort Carson. "As a professional courtesy, we all know the aircrew at civilian airlines are extremely qualified, but as a byproduct of being a pilot, I always have a heightened awareness when flying. However, I never thought I would be in the situation I was in."

Gongol, his wife and daughter were on the way from Des Moines International Airport Dec. 30, with 151 other passengers and six crewmembers, after spending the holidays with his family. To him and his family, the day was just like any other, except for a short flight delay due to weather.

Approximately 30 minutes into the flight, Gongol, a B-1B Lancer pilot, noticed the engines power down to idle. The thoughts immediately started jumping through his head; there were a variety of reasons why the engines would shut down to idle, none of them categorized as normal. Slowly, the aircraft began to descend and turn right.

"Over the public address system; a flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board the plane," said Gongol. "A few more calls went out for medical professionals and the flight attendants were all hurrying to first class with their beverage carts and a first-aid kit."

At that moment, Gongol thought it was a medical emergency with a first class passenger, his instincts told him to stay seated and stay out of the way. A fourth call went out, "are there any non-revenue pilots on board, please ring your call button." Immediately, Gongol realized the pilot was the patient. He looked to his wife; as she gave him a nod, Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight deck.

Arriving at the flight deck, Gongol saw four flight attendants and two passenger nurses assembling a make-shift bed, medical kits were strewn across the ground and the captain of the aircraft was seated in his chair, eyes dilated, sweaty, clammy and disoriented. Gongol immediately thought the pilot was suffering some serious cardiac trauma.

"After they moved the pilot, I was asked by the first officer, 'are you a pilot,' which was quickly followed with 'what do you fly,'" said Gongol. "I knew she was in a serious situation and that question gave her five seconds to judge if I would be useful. I also had about five seconds to asses her, 'was she panicking, or was she OK to fly the aircraft?' We both finished our silent assessments, she made the right judgment and told me to close the door and have a seat."

From there, Gongol was calm and collected, and the first officer decided that he would be most useful to talk on the radios, back her up on the aircraft's checklists and look for anything going wrong.

Having been an aircraft commander, Gongol is used to making decisions, but he knew the best way to get the aircraft down safely was to play a support role to the first officer and make things as normal as possible for her. In an emergency situation, he had the ability to place himself outside the situation for a second and make the right call.

"She was calm, but you could tell she was a little stressed, who wouldn't be," said Gongol. "At the beginning, I interrupted her flow of operations, but we figured everything out extremely quickly. She was very impressive."

There were hundreds of issues the two pilots talked through on the aircraft while descending; cabin pressure, approach, contact with air traffic control, visual cues and programming of the auto-pilot were just a few, said Gongol. At about 500 feet above ground level, the first officer hand-flew the approach to a normal touchdown.

After landing, the first officer turned to Gongol and asked if he knew where to taxi, she had never been to the Omaha airport before. Taken aback by how cool, calm and collected the first officer had acted without knowing the airport, Gongol remembered landing at the airport before pilot training.

"Surprisingly, taxiing was the most stressful part of the day for the first officer," said Gongol. "She had never taxied a 737 before and the ATC had no idea that the pilot was the reason for the emergency. We had to make a quick decision that her switching to the pilot's seat and taxiing the aircraft without the training was necessary to save the captain's life."

As the air stairs went down and the aircraft was shut down, Gongol and the first officer talked through the decisions they had just made. Gongol assured the first officer that every decision she made would be backed up by him; he would have taken the exact same actions had he been in her place.

The captain of the aircraft is recovering well and contacted Gongol directly to thank him. The crew of the aircraft, the two nurses who provided first aid for the captain and the first officer have all been in contact with Gongol; an emergency has brought together several strangers as friends.

"I saw nothing but the finest professionalism under pressure out of the flight attendants, the nurses and the first officer," said Gongol. "Everyone aboard the aircraft remained calm, there is no doubt in my mind this contributed above all else to our successful outcome. In my opinion any military pilot would have done the exact same thing I did."

Gongol acted in an emergency situation, realized the role that would be best for him to play and while he was not necessarily the direct savior to more than 150 souls on board, his actions contributed to a safe ending to the flight. His actions, according to him, do not make him a hero. However, they surely place him one step above a noble thinker.



tabComments
7/1/2014 1:25:11 PM ET
He is already a hero serving in the military. God bless him and the crew for a great job well done.
Patti, United States
 
6/13/2014 12:24:28 PM ET
I wish Capt. Gongol would write a book about not only his USAF training but his life experiences work ethic and other factors that turned him into the kind of person who could pull this off.I wish he and the First Officer of the civilian plane could be part of some sort of training program to reform what people in America think of as education and preparation for a career.What Capt. Gongol and this First Officer have the rest of America needs.
Robert Holder, United States
 
6/13/2014 9:22:43 AM ET
IMHO Gongol is a hero. There are many more unsung heros than the ones who get the limelight. His training expertise and wisdom in handling the situation as he did is definitely the metal of heroes
Maurice Hodos, New Jersey
 
6/11/2014 3:46:57 PM ET
Generally losing confidence in air travel and specifically the training level of First Officers.
M. O'Quin, Fremont CA
 
6/9/2014 2:01:32 PM ET
All of our men and women in uniform of our Armed Services are hero's. Capt. Gongol's actions bear that out regardless in uniform or not on-duty or off hero's one and all.
Ivory-Paul Payne, Los Angeles CA.
 
6/8/2014 11:45:03 AM ET
Thank you sir for your service and for your professional reaction and aid in an emergency situation. Well done
Gene Small, Alabama
 
6/8/2014 11:33:21 AM ET
Good job Captain Mark I know that even if you had to be PIC everything would have turned out OK. You guys are the best trained in the world. And THX to your wife for giving you the nod
Rob Cavanaugh, Alta Loma CA
 
6/8/2014 10:07:18 AM ET
As a deadheading flight crew member for a major airline I have often thought what I would do in this situation. Capt. Mark Gongol did exactly what thought was appropriate. I applaud his quick thinking and professionalism. I would expect nothing less of any of our military pilots. Well done Capt Gongol
Fred Hollendorfer, Denver CO
 
6/7/2014 7:05:37 PM ET
What if the Air Force pilot's wife had said No. Would he have stayed in his seat and not helped out It seemed comical how the writer said that the AF pilot looked to his wife and got the OK nod...
cliff lapp, United States
 
6/7/2014 11:57:47 AM ET
Kudos to the Captain stepping up when needed. However as he said he did nothing any military pilot would not have done.
Martin Hill, Clarkson Ky
 
6/7/2014 8:27:06 AM ET
Always think of these things when flying commercial on trips. Being a inactive pilot in small single and twin general aviation planesalways wonder if I could help during a PILOT emergencyI may not be a B-1 pilot but i still remember what makes an airplane fly
Jesse, KSAT
 
6/7/2014 2:39:45 AM ET
My first CFI was female. She used to have a fear of flying and was a cocktail waitress prior. Tracy was the coolest on the ball pilot that I ever trained with. Congrats and great job to Capt. Gongol and the First Officer for making a great day for all on board. Happy flying
Mr ANGELO S DROUTSAS, United states of america
 
6/7/2014 1:58:06 AM ET
It seem quite surprising that it was mentioned the First Officer had not taxied a B737 before I hope the report was in error - if not then the airline might like to review there training procedures.
Hugh Francis, New Zealand
 
6/6/2014 11:03:03 PM ET
To Capt. Mark Gongol. I am an air traffic controllerfrontline mngr at the Honolulu Control Facility in Hawaii. Your story is such a great reminder to me and my team of controllers who I will share this with of how the men and women pilots we provide atc services to on a daily basic are a group of highly skilled and professional individuals. I have the greatest respect and admiration for pilots and I thank you for reminding me. Well done guys
Charlie November, Honolulu
 
6/6/2014 9:02:36 PM ET
Good on the First Officer and Gongol in stepping in and giving credit to everyone where it is due.Nothing like a B1 Lancer Pilot Great Job.
Michael Pemberton, Australia
 
6/6/2014 8:12:25 PM ET
Having flown my first solo flight at age 14 i was always trained to be prepared for emergencies especially those requiring emergency landings. There have been times throughout the years flying between Europe and the US where I had actually envisioned this exact scenario and asking myself - what would I do in that situation But of course I had always envisioned myself as the one that saved the day. But Capt. Gongol made the proper assessment considering that the first officer was more familiar with company protocol and procedures involving emergencies such as this. In the end Capt. Gongol's faith and trust in the First Officer's training and professionalism and allowing her to take the lead was a hard call to make for the B1 Bomber pilot - and it was the right one. Bravo. Capt Gongol must have done his UPT at Laughlin AFB.
Arthur J Gonzalez, Houston TX
 
6/6/2014 2:11:08 PM ET
Capt Gongol was a hero I find it incredible that the First Officer had never taxied the aircraft before. Lt Col USAF Ret.
James hodges, Florence sc
 
6/6/2014 1:00:30 PM ET
Another example of professionalism by a USAF pilot
Richard F Pillow, Central Florida
 
6/6/2014 12:36:43 PM ET
A wonderful story of a normal guy who happened to be a USAF pilot. He filled a role but did not take over and showed something that some do not credit enough humility. He gave the lead to the lady co pilot and that says a lot about the man.
Steve MacLeod, near Toronto Canada
 
6/6/2014 12:09:21 PM ET
As frequent flierretired professional firefighter of 32yrs and part time ramp worker for 15yrs I can appreciate and applaud everyone's professionalism that turned that major emergency into having a happy ending for all concerned. Capt. Gongol - You deserve accolades for stepping up to the plate and helping bring everyone together so they could carry out their jobs. Congratulations to everyone involved you did a great job
Dale Ballok, StrongsvilleOhio
 
6/6/2014 12:04:49 PM ET
Great Story Something he will never forget
C130PilotRetired, Edinburg Texas
 
6/6/2014 11:44:28 AM ET
He did the right thing. I hope Captain Gongol is proud of himself because he did a really great job
Elliott Hayot, The Netherlands
 
6/6/2014 10:32:55 AM ET
I'm confused. The first officer of a 737 had never taxied the airplane before Am I missing something
BroTim, Boston
 
6/6/2014 10:21:45 AM ET
Sometimes the 'unsung' heroes are among the bravest and most humble people on the planet
Martin Dewhurst, West Sussex UK
 
6/6/2014 10:00:52 AM ET
Great result thanks to the efforts of all. The FO had never taxied a 737 before
J Johnson, Italy
 
6/6/2014 9:31:03 AM ET
Inspiring Thank you.
Tricia, Chicago
 
6/6/2014 8:44:44 AM ET
I was a fighter pilot on propeller places but I would have been too stressed to act calmly in an airliner jet with lots of buttons and handles.
Jack Shasha, Israel
 
6/6/2014 8:43:32 AM ET
All the training works. Great job Captain Gongol.
Bob Wild, Redington Shores FL
 
6/6/2014 8:31:14 AM ET
Deep respect for handling this so well.
Jan van Joolen, France
 
6/6/2014 7:35:27 AM ET
Another example of why the men serving our country are the absolute best. Capt. Gongol thank you for your service.
MJH, Stow Ohio
 
6/6/2014 5:31:12 AM ET
Sometimes the greatest heros are those that avert the circumstances to become a hero. In my opinion this is an example of just that.
Leon Hussin, La Vergne TN
 
6/6/2014 4:38:15 AM ET
A very beautiful story. I got tears in my eyes.
Cenneth, Sweden
 
6/6/2014 2:54:18 AM ET
While there are many who question the need for military forces during peace-time incidents like this highlight the importance of having highly trained professionals like Captain Gongol around.No panic just sheer expertise. I can only hope that we in South Africa have an Air Force with the same level of training.
Rod Cramb, South Africa
 
6/6/2014 2:29:41 AM ET
Excellent Good Job Keep it up Congrats.
kishor Rach, India
 
6/6/2014 1:39:06 AM ET
I would have expected nothing less from two professionals. As long as one is checked out on that type and the other pilot experienced in radio and monitoring the result was a good one from two people who knew their stuff.
Annie, Hunter NSW
 
6/4/2014 9:10:57 PM ET
That Others May Live. Great job USAF
Jeremy Swanger, US
 
6/4/2014 9:03:39 PM ET
Another reason I would like to have been a pilot in another life. I loved this story and salute all that played a part in this happy ending.
John, Home
 
6/4/2014 6:17:25 PM ET
Would your man fly on my next flight or lets hope that there is someone like him aboard....Well done
Robert Sandow, Australia
 
6/4/2014 10:18:54 AM ET
Dear Markmy best congratulations great job Im really proud to have the name Gongol Youre the real heroGood luckMiroslav Gongol with familyCzech Republic Prague
Miroslav Gongol, Czech Republic Prague
 
6/4/2014 12:59:22 AM ET
AN EXCELLENT COMMENT FROM CAPTAIN GONGOL. I USED TO FLY FOR A MAJOR DOMESTIC AIRLINE IN AUSTRALIA. THE CRITERIA AT OUR AIRLINE BEFORE A BRAND NEW FIRST OFFICER WOULD BE RELEASED TO FLY WITH QUITE POSSIBLY THE MOST JUNIOR CAPTAIN IN THE COMPANY OR EQUALLY POSSIBLY THE MOST SENIOR AND CLOSEST TO RETIREMENT WAS THAT HE OR SHE WOULD BE CAPABLE TO GET THE AIRPLANE ON THE GROUND THOUGH NOT NECESSARILY TO THE GATE NOT ONLY SINGLE PILOT BUT OPERATING SINGLE PILOT UNDER STRESSFUL CIRCUMSTANCES. THIS PHILOSOPHY IS EXEMPLIFIED BY THIS CASE.
CHRIS ROBEY, SYDNEY AUSTRALIA
 
6/3/2014 7:39:52 PM ET
Wow These guys do so much for our country.Talking about being over qualified. Hell yes for the military.MarshallREW6p
marshall Walter, roswell ga
 
6/3/2014 6:38:12 PM ET
Good going Gongol
Per Perald, Norway
 
6/3/2014 5:46:02 PM ET
Great job Captain GongolKudos to the First Officer and nurses and flight crew too.Refreshing to read an up-beat story amongst all the bad news storiesSemper Paratus from your admirer in the USCG AUXElissa
Elissa, Chester County PA
 
6/3/2014 6:09:35 AM ET
Incredible teamworkThis was also covered in a finnish newsite.
Eilif, Helsinki Finland
 
6/3/2014 3:00:05 AM ET
Captain Gongol acted in and upheld the finest traditions of the USAF in assisting this number 2 to effect a safe touchdown. Respect and admiration from across the pond.
Mike Kavanagh, Balsall Common UK
 
6/3/2014 2:59:36 AM ET
WOW this testimony is just to big to miss God's intervention Bless you all as this has blessed me
Jacques Basson, South Africa
 
6/2/2014 11:36:34 PM ET
Outstanding
Ricardo Salvador, Silver Spring MD
 
6/2/2014 3:15:33 PM ET
Amazing Job well done Kudos to both the pilots for saving the 150 souls
Debi R, United States
 
5/31/2014 10:25:45 PM ET
Good show Captain It's all about teamwork to accomplish a mission--the Air Force way
Bob Hale, San Antonio
 
5/31/2014 7:58:56 AM ET
Isn't that why there's a co-pilotShe should have just taken over the aircraft.Kudos to Mark Gongol however for stepping up...luckily for all he was on board.
Robert, United States
 
5/31/2014 12:40:26 AM ET
Well done just let the military training and mind do the thinking and the righteous result will rise Thank God for our PILOTS
Carlos J Colon, Puerto Rico
 
5/31/2014 12:05:09 AM ET
Well done Captain. Sometimes the best action is one of support and it takes great skill and personal confidence to not take the lead while staying calm. Especially when you are used to doing just that. As an ex-Air Force Firefighter and now a 37 year emergency responder - I salute you sir.
Mike Weddle, Indianapolis
 
5/30/2014 5:27:15 PM ET
Excellent job Captain. A heart felt great job to all involved. Too bad this story is not in the press where it truly belongs. Like it or notI see an MSM on your chest in your future.
Daniel R Pickering, Racine WI
 
5/30/2014 4:41:20 PM ET
And what would he have done if his assessment of her indicated that he didn't feel she was up to the task of flying the aircraft Attempt to take over That's about the most idiotic thing I've read.You try and takeover my aircraft I guarantee that you would be met by federal agents and find yourself with a oneway ticket to federal prison.Regardless of his assessment the proper thing to do which he did is to assist the FO in completing hisher job.
JD, dallas texas
 
5/30/2014 4:13:56 PM ET
Nice job Capt. Gongol but let me get this right... The First Officer was qualified in the 737 but didn't know how to taxi the plane Was it that she didn't know how to taxi to from the right seat There are tillers on both sides of the cockpit - yes That part of the story needs a little clarification. Great job anyway to all involved.
catfish252, Atlanta GA
 
5/30/2014 3:55:36 PM ET
Sierra Hotel Lancer driver
AOC U.S.N., CONUS
 
5/30/2014 3:27:09 PM ET
IN THIS CLIMATE OF UNCERTAINTY IN THE ECONOMIES OF THE WORLD AND UNREST IN MANY COUNTRIES TODAY IT IS GOOD TO REALIZE THAT THE SERVICE IS STILL TURNING OUT CRACKER JACK SHARP PEOPLE WHO DO NOT PANIC OR CRACK UNDER PRESSURE AND I MIGHT ADD I HAVE GONE ON TO BECOME A CORPORATE LLC OWNER AND MASTER OF SHAOLIN GUNG FU AND OWE MY DRIVE AND DETERMINATION TO MY BEGINNINGS IN THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
ALLEN JACKSON, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY RICHMOND VIRGINIA
 
5/30/2014 3:19:56 PM ET
AS A FORMER MEMBER OF THE 35TH TACTICAL AIR FORCE BASE AT GEORGE IN VICTORVILLE CALIFORNIA I HAVE A REAL APPRECIATION FOR WHAT CAPT. MARK GONGOL DID THAT DAY THAT ACTUALLY TRANSCENDED MERELY BEING A HERO FOR THE DAY BECAUSE OF THE LIVES HE INEVITABLY SAVED INCLUDING HIS AND FAMILY BUT EVEN MORE..IT SHOWS THE PROFESSIONALISM THAT IS INSTILLED IN USAF PERSONNEL WHEN THEY CAN STEP UP AT A CRITICAL TIME WITH A MOMENTS NOTICE AND ASSIST IN A VERY UNLIKELY SCENARIO TO A VERY HAPPY CONCLUSION ALL AROUND I SALUTE HIM AND AM PROUD TO HAVE ALSO BEEN A PART OF THE GREATEST MILITARY ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD
ALLEN JACKSON, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY RICHMOND VIRGINIA
 
5/30/2014 3:11:44 PM ET
Very cool story with a great outcome. Great job stepping up and representing the greatest parts of the Air Force.
Matt, Az
 
5/30/2014 2:23:37 PM ET
This is a great story but seems a little sensationalized by the writer. Not knowing where to taxi Having not been to an airport before is ridiculous because they have taxi diagrams as well as could get what is referred to as progressive taxi instructions from the ground control where they give you turn by turn directions. EVERY commercial pilot knows this and to suggest that she would ask if he had been there before is ludicrous. Pilots go to places they have never been before all the time.
Paul Besing, Afghanistan
 
5/30/2014 2:11:38 PM ET
Well done As a private pilot I always wondered if I'd be called on in a similar situation. Having a BONE pilot on the flightdeck was excellent
Steve Ceskowski, Beach Park Illinois
 
5/30/2014 12:35:59 PM ET
Nicely done Gutsy.
Ghillie, Fort Mill SC
 
5/30/2014 11:44:26 AM ET
I salute the officer for stepping forward. There is a spirit of mutual support for our fellow pilots that comes alive in these situations when self goes away and duty steps forward. antique pilot from 65 years ago
Paul Kaiser, Del Rio Texas
 
5/30/2014 11:41:54 AM ET
Just another reason why I love the USAF
Michael Superczynski, Upper Arlington OH USA
 
5/30/2014 11:28:49 AM ET
Congratulations and God Bless Capt. Gongol and the USAF. This is the type of proffesionals that make our services great I'd also like to say excellent work by the nurses and the 1st officer at the helm. grewat work to all. I had 8 years in the USAF before transitioning to the civilian world as a professional Fire FighterEMT. Miss it everyday
Pete Schena, Haverhill Massachusetts
 
5/29/2014 9:41:50 PM ET
What an incredible story and what a happy endingPlease tell Captain Gongol thank you for serving our country and for stepping up to the plate in this awful situation.I know about 160 people are extremely thankful for his actionsWell done
Jay Davis, Dallas TX
 
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