The Day a USAF KC-135 Crew Saved an F-4 Phantom by Dragging it Home

On the 5th of September, 1983; 4 USAF F-4E Phantom jets were flying over the Atlantic en route to Europe along with the support of a KC-135 known as "North Star".

These five aircraft were part of a larger number of Phantoms and tankers on a routine trans-Atlantic flight. To make the crossing, the starving thrust dependant Phantom jets would require "tanking" a total of 8 times to fill their thirsty engines.

Midway across the Atlantic, and just prior to the 4th refuel, one of the F-4Es piloted by Maj. Jon “Ghost” Alexander and his WSO Dan Silvis, started to develop some engine problems. After a quick visual from one of the other aircraft, it was discovered Ghost's F-4E was bleeding oil. The emergency divert base at Gander, Newfoundland was contacted with an emergency declaration.

Shortly after, things began to rapidly deteriorate when the still turning, but barely burning turbines started to wind down, and the Phantom who's known for its dependance on power, started to bleed airspeed and altitude simultaneously.

At this point, with the Number Two engine, barely hanging on, and the Number One began to struggle with the higher temperatures and load of keeping the Phantom airborne. Watching the airspeed decay, Ghost decided to jettison his external tanks to reduce drag and weight in hopes of saving his dying jet.

Struggling with a dying Number 1, and an overheating Number 2, while maintaining an extreme high nose-up attitude to keep far away from the frigid Atlantic beneath,  sadly for Ghost and his WSO, things were about to go even further south...moments after dropping his tanks, his jet's hydraulic system failed, crippling the stricken jet even further. and reducing the list of available options to one...Eject!

Still 520 miles out of Gander, and facing a certain death in the waters below, "Lone Star" E-113, crewed by Captain Robert Goodman, Captain Michael Clover, First Lieutenant Karol Wojcikowski and Staff Sergeant Douglas Simmons pulled high and in front of Ghost's Phantom, dropping flaps and slats to slow to the speed of the crippled jet.

As the altitude dropped to 4000 feet over the water, "North Star" hooked up with Ghost's Phantom, and started to transfer fuel to his starving J-79 engines. Considering the lack of hydraulics, and asymmetric thrust produced by the F-4, as well as the high Angle of Attack flown by both aircraft at low airspeed and altitude, this was no easy feat.

The F-4E could not hold on, as the decaying power and airspeed proved too much for the tanker, and repeatedly brute-force disconnected from the refuelling probe. Each time, tanker descended after the dying Phantom jet, in a final decent towards the waters below. The crew of "North Star" pushed their nose over and chased the Phantom lower. and slower, this time indicating as little as 190 knots at 1400 feet above the cold Atlantic waves.

Amazingly, holding the connection, "North Star" began to actually tow Ghost's Phantom for the final 160 miles to Gander.

As the coast of Newfoundland appeared on the horizon, and at 6000 feet of altitude, Ghost was able to coax a little power out of his now cooled #2 engine, disengaged from the boom, and was now left with the simple proposition of landing a Phantom that was only capable of banking left. Ghost's WSO quickly formulated an approach that would allow the jet to align with Gander’s main runway. while taking into account the jets limited performance abilities.

Moments later, Ghost and his WSO touched down safe and dry on the runway complex at Gander, and rolled to a stop.

The crew of "North Star" Captains Robert J. Goodman and Michael F. Clover, First Lieutenant Karol F. Wojcikowski and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons, all received the Mackay Trophy for their efforts above and beyond the call of duty in saving the F-4E crew from certain death in the waters below.



  • Steve

    Great story. I remember it well. Real life drama. Shame the name of the WSO (Dan Silvis) and the two it’s F-4 on the wing weren’t mentioned. It was a team effort. I never met a tanker crew that didn’t give more than they got!

  • kenneth eichorn

    Pardo Push story can be found on Google

  • kenneth eichorn

    Reminds me of Pardo Push for a disabled F4 during Vietnam.

  • John Micgiel

    How can I get in touch with Karol Wojciechowski? I’m a childhood friend.
    Dr, John S. Micgiel

  • Jens Nobel

    I’m Danish, but still.
    I’m also an active duty volunteer petty officer on an 800 class Patrol vessel, and as such we are doing regular excersizes with the Air Force heloes that are both transports, gunships, rescue heloes and god only knows what else.
    At one such excersize, 8 men and I was hoisted from the deck of my own ship and into the helo. We were then taken for ride of about 5 minutes to a sister ship lying to the south of our ship. The plan was to swap crews on the 2 ships to give the helo crew some practise in modrately rough weather hoists.
    Not quite without risk of getting a few bruises on the way up or down, but this crew knew exactly what they were all about.
    The first men down went without a hitch, but the man being sent down before me got a bit of a bumpy ride down, and a nasty swing which, thankfully, the men on the deck was able to check in time. (it might be worthy of note that the RHIB was taking up all space on the port side of the deck behind the superstructure, and that there was about 2 by 2½ meters of available deck on the starboard side due to the large trunk with the steering engine compartment deck hatch and the ships crane. So there is very little room to spare when the ship is a bit wopplely in bigger waves.
    As I was coming down, it seemed to go smoothly until reaching a height about 2 feet above the railing. Then, suddenly, I began to move forward very fast and aimed directly at the outboard engine on the RHIB in it’s craddle. “This one is going to hurt badly.” was all I had time to think.
    Then, just as suddenly, I was yanked extremely hard and fast upwards to the point of almost having my arms forced straight up so that I would instead be slipping out of the strap around my chest and under the arms.
    This didn’t happen as it turned out, although I had serious doubts for a split second. And then I was just hanging there, some 15 feet above the water and swinging rather heavily back and forth, but in no immediate danger any more.
    Turns out that both the hoist operator and the pilot had reacted simultaneously when they saw me speeding towards the RHIB and yanked hard upwards at both the collective and the hoist line. The first officer told me when I had landed safely on the deck in the second attempt that I had missed the RHIB engine by about an inch and had inadvertently knocked the AIS antenna of it’s position on the steel bar behind the drivers seat of the RHIB with my right boot while passing forward and up.
    So it was pretty clear to us that the crew of this helo were both fast in reaction and in split second decisions. Real pro’s. Needless to say that they saved me from some serious consequences with some serious sick leave, although my chest and arm pits were a bit soured for a day or 2.
    Also needless to say that I had to visit the squadron and buy these guys a drink for that save. They earned it, i’d say.

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