national

U.S. airman spots aircraft fuel leak at 35,000 feet on Narita-bound flight

90 Comments
By Tech Sgt Rey Ramon

Most of us hear stories of Airmen saving lives in combat, but a U.S. airman who saves the lives of more than 300 passengers is definitely a story worth hearing.

A fuel leak on a civilian aircraft caught the attention of Staff Sgt Bartek Bachleda, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, during a flight from Chicago to Narita airport last week. After alerting the pilots and aircrew, the ranking pilot made the decision to divert the flight to San Francisco.

"I noticed the leak on the left side of the aircraft right behind the wing earlier during take-off," said Bachleda.

Bachleda continued analyzing the outflow of fuel to be 100% sure it was a leak while the plane was reaching cruising altitude. Almost an hour into the flight, he told a flight attendant of the possible leak, but was given an unconcerned response.

Bachleda then began to capture the possible leak on video. He then got the flight attendant's attention by saying, "Ma'am it's an emergency." He identified himself to her and showed her the image on video.

"She was completely serious and was no longer handing out drinks," he said. "I told her you need to inform your captain before we go oceanic."

The captain came from the cockpit to where Bachleda was sitting to see the leak and view the video footage. Bachleda said the captain and the crew were trying to figure out how the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour and then they knew exactly what was going on.

The captain made a mid-air announcement the flight would be diverted back to Chicago, but then changed it to San Francisco so passengers could catch the only existing flight to Narita airport.

Once the flight arrived in San Francisco, Bachleda and a coworker were asked to stay back while the aircraft was deplaned. They waited for the arrival of investigators, the fire chief, and the owner of the airport to explain what went wrong.

"When we got off the airplane, everyone was thanking us," said the sergeant.

While conversing with the captain, the sergeant said he was hesitant at first to inform them about the leak, but he knew it was abnormal. The captain said they would have never made it to Japan if it wasn't for him.

The two airmen were put up in a hotel overnight and flew back to Japan the next morning. The airline company showed their appreciation by seating them first-class.

© Air Force News Service

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


90 Comments
Login to comment

Nice initial response from the cabin attendant. "We're here for your safety" is a slogan they use on one certain U.S. airline. Yeah, right.

Interesting story, but what was the airline?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is nice to hear some good news once in a while.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing that an airplane with an emergency situation can just change it's emergency destination just because a few patients might be a bit late on their holiday. Lucky they didn't all die. Great job US airman!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If this had been JAL or ANA that information would have been in the headline. So which American airline was it?

Bartek Bachleda deserves a lot more than a first class ticket, a write up in the papers & a pat on the back.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A fuel leak on a civilian aircraft caught the attention of Staff Sgt Bartek Bachleda, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, during a flight from Chicago to Narita airport last week. After alerting the pilots and aircrew, the ranking pilot made the decision to divert the flight to San Francisco.

Great job Sgt, carry on!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, don't these planes have systems to detect this sort of thing? Judging by the photo it looks like a United flight.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great Story!!! Nice to hear good PR about our troops...99.9 % of them are good people...takes just a few to spoil the image....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, don't these planes have systems to detect this sort of thing?

Planes technology sometimes seem sophisticated but most of the time is not that sophisticated as we expected. For this case from the cockpit point of view the thing they could see only the fuel volume/mass that getting decrease from time to time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"JeffLee at 07:12 AM JST - 21st May

Nice initial response from the cabin attendant. "We're here for your safety" is a slogan they use on one certain U.S. airline. Yeah, right.

Interesting story, but what was the airline?"

It was a United Airlines 747-400 which you can clearly tell by the colour scheme of the port winglet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

before we go oceanic.

And I thought they only talked like that in the movies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good job USAF!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the first attendant was Japanese if I am not mistaken. They are notorious for not making any noise about something or even making a change to an already established schedule.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Samuraiiki: superb stereotype! they report everything. you'd prefer the attendant running down the aisle screaming "we are going down!!!"?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If it was JAL something would have just fallen off the plane. I would have loved to have said "...before we go oceanic" - a line straight out of Hollywood!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Strange that the captain did not decide to divert until after the airman reported the leak from the wing. The crew already knew they were experiencing a sudden loss of fuel and it is highly unlikely that they would leave the US airspace knowing that the plane was losing 6,000 lbs of fuel/hour. The airmen were helpful in identifying the leak source, but unless the flight crew were complete idiots, the plane would have diverted anyway. Story reads more as a PR piece for the military at the expense of the competence of United's flight crew.

Both should have been praised since they all contributed to the plane landing without incident.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well done!!! I agree this should be in all the papers and Japan should issue a thank you for this young man's work in saving a lot of lives. If this flight was like most I've been on from the US to Japan. The bulk of the lives saved were Japanese.

Come on Japan, give this guy the thanks he very dearly deserves.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

WTF I flew that exact flight last week as well, most likely the same damn plane!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Wow, don't these planes have systems to detect this sort of thing?"

The captain knew they were losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour. I guess he would have made an emergency landing even if Bachleda hadn't noticed anything. But it would have been some time later, perhaps after they'd gone oceanic!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

buddha4brains at 08:58 AM JST - 21st May

Did you look to see who wrote this story?

“By Tech Sgt Rey Ramon”

I sort of agree with what you wrote, but I still think the airforce guy did a good job because as much as I want to believe that the pilots would have done something I also believe that it’s never a good idea to wait for the good guys to do the right thing, just in case they don’t.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

it’s never a good idea to wait for the good guys to do the right thing, just in case they don’t.

How come the routine check missed this leakage. That's something subject for further investigation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The article came from "Stars and Stripes" orginally, an American newspaper for Military. It wasn't even published in Japanese news as far as I know.

Also, fuel leaks like the one above are not constant, but intermitent. So they could have noticed the 6000lb/hr loss at first, but it would have stopped, then come back. Unless you are watching it the entire time, it's hard to catch when you are flying. Also, the plane is already burning about 4000lb/hr normally.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good job!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"How come the routine check missed this leakage? That's something subject to further investigation."

It certainly is! Also I want confirmation on which airline this is! KnowBetter claims it's United...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've checked several other news sites and none of them have the name of the airline.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well done, that man.

The airline company showed their appreciation by seating them first-class.

No life-long first class passes?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Holy moly!! That is incredible!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"How come the routine check missed this leakage? That's something subject to further investigation." It certainly is! Also I want confirmation on which airline this is! KnowBetter claims it's United..

Few years ago Ana Bombardier DHC8-Q400 made emergency landing because of the front landing gear can not function properly. After the investigation they discover dislodged bolt caused the accident, checking this bolt never listed in routine check. Ana was doing the best thing they could, the pilot landed the plane safely without no casualties. So for Ana case the one who had responsibility was the DHC8-Q400 manufacture since the checking routine procedure was issued by the manufacture. For the Sgt Bartek Bachleda case, we still have to wait who really responsible whether the ground crew or manufacture. Sometime little crack that could lead potential leakage can not seen by human-eye, it needs nondestructive inspection methods to be discovered.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did you look to see who wrote this story? “By Tech Sgt Rey Ramon” I sort of agree with what you wrote, but I still think the airforce guy did a good job ...

Oh yes, I fully agree. My point was that the overall plane safety was due to everyone doing their part and that the article is biased in its focus on only one of the players. Authorship of the article does kind of suggest bias - though I wouldn't go so far as to suggest a desire to deceive or any other ill intent other that to pat a fellow soldier on the back.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lesson learned: do not be passive when flying and get a wing seat assignment. Be on the look out for anything unusual. (I will bring my bi-noculars from now on). And of course, do not be afraid to share your findings with other passengers or cabin crew.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm surprised that other passengers sitting in window seats also didn't spot the fuel leak and sound the alarm.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

anyway good job. maybe someone else did a bad job. made me laugh how this was written, typical usa good time news report.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

From USAToday--

An Air Force sergeant traveling on a United Airlines nonstop flight between Chicago and Tokyo is being hailed as a hero in a recent Air Force press release for noticing a fuel leak on the Boeing 747 and then bringing it to the attention of the flight's captain.

http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/item.aspx?type=blog&ak=66983027.blog

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I flew the same flight 3 days before, we were delayed 3 hours on the ground because of mechanical problems, that plane is a death trap, it's obviously got problems.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

well, that flight attendant's response is scary. At least now I know yet another thing to look out for when I fly. And I hate to fly. there are too many incompetent people working in plane maintenance.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Typical of that airline though, the condescending attitude of the flight attendants.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For those of you saying that the flight crew was already aware of the fuel leak when the Airmen brought it to their attention, where does it say that in the article?

All the article say is the following which is poorly worded but I don't think it means that the pilots already knew about the problem...

Bachleda said the captain and the crew were trying to figure out how the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour and then they knew exactly what was going on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And to think that I would live to see the day when JapanToday prints a US military press release, and a positive one at that. What are the odds?...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This was American Airlines.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sorry, it's United as reported in USA Today.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

jkoffman

No, it wasn't AA. The fligt was UA 881. The photo above is clearly of a United Airlines aircraft.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The true horror of the story is the obvious symptom of I-mericanitis. This guy tells the flight attendant about a serious problem and she pretends to listen and tells him, "I know, I know." These days everyone knows everything whilst remaining perversely incapable of doing anything.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just shows what can happen when one notes an error & is accustom to what could have been wrong in more ways then just one. Mind you alargo was perfecting in his post & as you read the full report you could see he was being ignored as ANOTHER one that wanted sensless attention.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

good job Sgt

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most of us hear stories of Airmen saving lives in combat,

Heh, heh. What a kidder.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the first attendant was Japanese if I am not mistaken. They are >notorious for not making any noise about something or even making a >change to an already established schedule.

No, you're mistaken. They're usually known to over-react for fear of being held responsible if anything really did happen. So they pass it up the ladder. In this case it would br from FA to cockpit. Outstanding job airman.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How many people do you think approach flight attendants with problems? How regularly do people panic at the slightest thing. Don't kid yourself, it does happen. The FA calming him down, and assuring him was the right move. His move to calmly document the situation was likewise the proper way to take action. No screaming hysterics about losing fuel etc.

Regarding the death trap crack above. That was simply uncalled for. The plane obviously has some maintenance issues that need to be dealt with. Once those are fixed, this 'death trap' will be as safe to fly as any other airplane.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They should give him a free unlimited pass for a year. Anyway it is symbolism because he would not be able to use it, unless it can be transferred to another person.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cool. Good to have a feel good story every once in a while. Also good for military PR.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most of us hear stories of Airmen saving lives in combat

we do?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hmm ... no more United Airlines for me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The guy is a hero. Nice to see.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bachleda said the captain and the crew were trying to figure out how the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour and then they knew exactly what was going on.

I would of turned the plane around immediately instead of problem solving why my plane was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour, and the article really didn't say why it was losing other then someone had spotted a fuel leak. Maybe the airline is trying to spin this one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am glad to see them all safe. And United Maintenance in Chicago should be fired.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

USNinJapan2 - I would read that as they knew there was a problem because "they were trying to figure out how..."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not Bad!

54 comments before a negative crack. Even Den Den had a compliment!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

good story.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the captain and the crew were trying to figure out how the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour

They knew they were losing enough fuel to cause the plane to crash but didn't turn around because they didn't know exactly HOW? Immediate sackings called for here. Gross incompetence by a lot of people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"After alerting the pilots and aircrew, the ranking pilot made the decision to divert the flight to San Francisco." <-- my 6th grade grammar teacher is shaking her finger, I just know it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The morale of the story is that UA needs to do a better job to maintain its planes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lucky for everyone onboard there was someone with enough guts to raise it to the crew. By the looks of that photo at least half the passengers sitting on the left side, behind the wing should have easily seen that... no surprises that all kept quiet while thinking "hen dane?" or simply didn't want to raise a commotion... cheers to Mr. Bachleda. The rate of fuel loss probably allowed them to make an emergency landing in Hawaii anyway... glad that everyone is safe.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is nothing short of a miracle. I'm just blown away at the odds. Think about it. The chances of Staff Sgt Bartek Bachleda being seated on the left side of the aircraft.....easy 50 / 50. The chances of him being seated in a window seat, gets just a little more complicated. The chances of him being seated by a window with a direct view of the fuel leak, not unrealistic but pretty low I'd think. The chances that his job just happens to be a Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, a guy who just happens to know all there is about fuel leaks in flight, and can identify it, now were talking divine interference for the passengers of that flight.

The creator sure does work in mysterious ways I'd have to say on this one!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yeah, the creator does work in mysterious ways. Surely he could have intervened a bit earlier in the situation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First off I didn't mean to demote the guy, he did the right thing. However did he really save everyone or was it just a bunch of coincidences that makes it seem like it? Of course the source of this particular story on JT is Air Force News Service so they of course want to shed good light on the guy, and good for him. But the crew already knew they were losing fuel, why were they dumb enough to continue flying? Or maybe they were still deciding on what to do about it, but I don't see him has a savior of the passengers and crew as the lovely news media loves to spin these stories. I want to know the cold hard facts, what the captain and crew were doing, were they already in the process of going to divert anyways, apparently they already knew they were losing fuel, but it doesn't explain why the plane is dumping the fuel, they should of turned it around or already been diverting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, FAA would definitely look in to this. But what is surprising is this that the attentive and cool passenger got such a petty reward! The Insurance company should be generous and pay them out well for saving a possible disaster claim .... if nothing more to think of. Also, it also proves that a cheap and simple video surveillance system for the Pilots to watch inside as well as all around the plane is still missing in this modern age ??? Hmmm... cough, grrrrrrrrrr...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great job Well done They should given him a VIP pass for life

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This story seriously lacks details... What kind of aircraft...? Not to belittle this guys work, but aircraft have fuel leaks all the time... And I don't think he did anything any normal human being with an ounce of common sense wouldn't do... "Hey there's something spraying out of the wing... Maybe we should tell the pilot...?"

Now if he was waiting for his flight in the terminal and noticed another aircraft on the tarmac getting ready to take off and it was spewing fuel like a sieve, and the aircrew were oblivious to it and he runs up to the tower and alerts someone... now that's something special...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

got such a petty reward!

He's lucky he got anything at all... I'd say a first class upgrade is pretty damn good for being a attentive passenger... I'm surprised he got anything at all... I'm not sure if that fuel leak would have qualified as an immediate emergency landing... Matter of fact that's one of the facts they conveniently leave out of this story... Did they need to declare an Emergency...? Obviously no aircraft commander is going to proceed across the pacific knowing they have fuel spewing out of their wing...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First class for life! Not only did he save lives... I was going to write more then I read the crass posts, later.

Good eye sergeant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The picture with this story shows a Winglet, or a Wing tip. These are part of Boeing deisgns, and used in 767, 777s.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sure planes may have leaks, but losing 6,000 pounds an hour is not a slight leak! On a 12 hour flight, that's a lot of lost gas. Yet finally, a story with a happy ending.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What a great job! Sailwind said it best...divine intervention was definitely at work here! Who knows what an average civilian would have done? Perhaps most passengers would not have said anything, assuming that the pilots would know everything that is going on and take care of it. But at that window was exactly the right person to know what was happening. The odds of that were incredibly small!

Most likely, just an hour into the flight, since the pilots knew the rate of the leak they also knew they had some time to make some decisions. Perhaps they still would have guided the plane to safety a little later even without Sgt. Bachleda. But then again, perhaps not. We will never know for sure. Fact remains, by making the decisions they did, he and the pilots saved a lot of lives!

Hope Sgt. Bachleda is getting a lot more than what is reported in the media!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Justuju,

Most 777's do NOT utilize a winglet, rather a raked wing-tip. The picture clealy shows a winglet, and the size of the winglet shown in the picture is typical of the kind used for 747-400 (as opposed to the more perpendicular types used in 737 and 757's.)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I guess they would have ended up in Anchorage once the crew realized that they didn't have enough fuel to make it to Japan. SF was a better option.

Good on the Sgt. for pointing this out. I wonder what the problem was. Stuck valve? Maybe the FAA knows.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This guy deserves a medal!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing story. I wonder what the chances would be of a Japanese passenger reporting such a sighting. Most Japanese seem to have the attitude that "It's none of my business" or "I don't want to cause a fuss." That is the "Shi-gata-ga-nai mentality."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yeinats: "And United Maintenance in Chicago should be fired"

Only the maintenance staff working on this jet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Scap,

I guess it would depend on if a Japanese passenger was also an JASDF refuelling crew member or an air crew on a dead-head leg, wouldn't it?

I didn't read in the article that all non-Japanese passengers sitting in "A" seats were all up-in-arms hounding the flight or cabin crew reporting the strange contrail eminating from port wing...

Anyways, the article was relatively "feel-good", why did you have to go there?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Aviation Herald – a site that monitors aviation incidents – identifies the flight as "United Airlines Boeing 747-400, registration N171UA performing flight UA-881 from Chicago O'Hare, IL (USA) to Tokyo Narita (Japan)."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"before we go oceanic"

I'll never forget this line as long as I live.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing story. I wonder what the chances would be of a Japanese >passenger reporting such a sighting. Most Japanese seem to have the >attitude that "It's none of my business" or "I don't want to cause a >fuss." That is the "Shi-gata-ga-nai mentality."

What a stupid post. Obviously if the passenger was a Japanese SDF member the chances of it being reported in like manner are very high. Those people on the plane were damn lucky it was an USAF sergeant since most of us Americans don't bother looking out the window at all.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He didn't really save lives per se, he just made it easier for the crew to figure out where the fuel was going and come up with the best plan. They obviously could see on the instruments that something wasn't right. He saved the crew a lot of time and made it so more passengers could make other connections. Without that they might have dumped fuel and landed in the middle of no where until they could figure out what was up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To OssanAmerica re your idiotic statement: "most of us Americans don't bother looking out the window at all". If that is the best you can do, maybe you should stop commenting as our self-appointed spokesperson and START looking out a window.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing story. I wonder what the chances would be of a Japanese passenger reporting such a sighting. Most Japanese seem to have the attitude that "It's none of my business" or "I don't want to cause a fuss." That is the "Shi-gata-ga-nai mentality."

What are the odds of any regular joe knowing what the stuff going out of the wing is in the first place?

Any case, the guy didn't save any lives, again good eye, and great that he reported it. However, I mean if there was a pregnant lady on board and he was the only person qualified to deliver the baby, now that's a story. However in this case the crew already knew they were losing fuel as reported, what they were planning to do wasn't reported, but it would of been stupid for the crew in losing 6,000 pounds an hour to continue to Japan even if this guy never said a peep. The story is written where it was because of him that the plane was turned around, what I'd like to know is what the decision process that was going on when the crew was troubleshooting their problem before it was reported, maybe the decision was ready made or being discussed well before it was reported. Like I said before, it just seems like a set of coincidences , together with some media spin that makes it a more feel good story then it really is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

looks like the dude was sitting on the port side. lucky he was sitting there, if not, this would have been very dangerous. those pilots calculate fuel consumption manually, although during ascent to cruise i doubt they had time to spot the discrepancy. what disturbs me is that EICAS, or the electronic info. crew alert system, hadn't warned the pilots AND that their manual fuel tally on paper failed to pinpoint this leak.

judging by the wing markings, it looks like a united flight. one thing's for sure, at least the passengers had their flight to turbulence-hell (i.e. half way across the pac and near japan) postponed. believe me, japan's turbulent skies are the WORST.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What are the odds of any regular joe knowing what the stuff going out of the wing is in the first place?

From some of the comments, apparently everybody knows but because they are all Japanese (no other Americans on board, you see) they are cultural damned without an American serviceman to save them.

The serviceman did good as did the flight crew. As for the decision to continue to SF rather than turn back was not that crazy as some say. If the decision to turn back or go on to SF happened a third of the way into the flight - when given the time and fuel spent to turn around and then return - then it makes sense to continue to SF. In any event the fuel loss was a serious incident, but not critical at the point of discovery otherwise the plane would have landed immediately.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As I read the many ( yes OssanAmerica they are indeed IDIOTIC ) post, you guys try to say that this was an American plane, with an American crew and only Japanese passengers and one single American airman. So once again, America saved the lives of all those Japanese. Good job, Americans. We thank you for that!!!..............................happy now?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

a true HERO

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank god this airman had the brains to do the right thing and point out this problem to the captain! I am happier to read this than having to read about this same aircraft going "oceanic" and 300 people drowning in the middle of the huge Pacific ocean!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

kavikahi: I was going to read your post...then I was interrupted by an intelligent thought.

Well. It is nice that they didn't all wind up in the Pacific.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All should be thankful that the leak was spotted. No lives were lost.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites