MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
On the morning of Nov. 21, 2001, an EA-6B Prowler was conducting a routine training mission about 30 miles off the Atlantic Coast.
The mission was going according to plan until suddenly a loud bang sounded from the left engine. Thick, dark smoke began bleeding into the cockpit, making it impossible for the crew to see, said Maj. Brent A. Crews, the pilot of the crippled aircraft.
"You couldn’t even see the person sitting next to you less than 6 inches away," said Crews, now the operations officer for Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4. "Once that happened the aircrew started running through the emergency check list."
The aircraft started to roll left, its nose pointing toward the water. The pilot and his crew made the decision to eject from the damaged Prowler.
"I heard what sounded like the ruffle of a bed sheet," said Crews. "I knew that was my parachute opening." He said he remembers looking toward the horizon, seeing the three other Marines of his crew drifting toward the water with open parachutes.
After Crews was back on dry land, he said he made it a point to personally thank the Marines who had packed his parachute.
"I got the chance to thank the Marines who saved my life," said Crews. "They are the last step in saving someone’s life, and it’s something we don’t take for granted."
Parachute riggers inspect, repair, prepare and maintain vital aircraft gear pilots and air crew may use in emergency situations.
A team of two to three Marines stretches each parachute out on an 18-foot table and inspects every inch of the parachute. The Marines must refer to their books every couple of minutes, look over instructions and return to the parachute, continuing to work.
According to Cpl. Benjiman F. Smith, a collateral duty quality assurance representative Marine with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14’s aviation life support system section, there are hundreds of steps in the parachute repair and packing process, and each one is vital.
"Someone could die if we don’t follow each step," said Smith. "We have to stay focused and pay close attention to detail."
While the Marines steadily work away, the shop is silent except for the occasional request for assistance. These Marines have to stay focused. Their attention to detail is literally life or death, and the importance of their missions not something they take lightly.
"This job is very intricate," said Sgt. David L. Underwood, a work center supervisor with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14’s Aviation Life Support System section. "It’s a lot more complicated than just packing a parachute, you have to be very detail oriented."
Every Monday the Marines of ALSS section go through training covering every aspect of their job.
"This is not a job you can become complacent in," said Smith. "The whole office is a controlled environment; right down to gear accountability and the temperature of the shop."
After each parachute is inspected, repaired and packed it is sent for an X-ray. This is a final precaution to make sure the parachute is completely ready to be used.
"The most important thing about this job is knowing that you hold someone else’s life in your hands," said Smith.