They say any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. Well, some landings can stretch the meaning of good. Take the photo below of a F9F crash. You have probably seen the video version in the 1990 film “Hunt for Red October” as a damaged F-14 or as the crash landing of a battle-damaged SBD that killed Matt Garth (played by Charlton Heston) in the 1976 film “Midway.”
Believe it or not, the pilot of that crash survived, and one big reason was the specially trained firefighters who handle such crashes. You can’t just throw any firefighter into this situation. Planes tend to be a special case, especially with the jet fuel on board.
The job falls to Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Specialists. In the Marine Corps, this is known as MOS 7051. To become one, candidates must be at least 64 inches tall, they have to have vision no worse than 20/50 (correctable to 20/20), and can’t have any impairment in their color vision. Then they have to meet certain medical standards and pass the Fire Protection Apprentice (Marines) Course, while hitting certain marks on the ASVAB.
After all that, their days are often spent training, going over the lessons learned from a given training mission, inspecting their gear, and doing all the things necessary to be ready when that moments comes. A 2015 release from the Marine Corps described how some of these Marines trained with Thai counterparts.
One of their exercises involved torching an airframe that had been slated for the scrapyard. That plane, a former Thai Airways C-47, ended up giving the Marines and their Thai Navy counterparts some real-life training.
You can see a video of some of these well-trained – and gutsy – Marines below. These aircraft rescue firefighters are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. These Marines stand ready to act if a plane crashes – or just catches fire – an event they hope never happens for real. (U.S. Marine Corps video by Sgt. Kate Busto)