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US military plane dumps fuel en route to emergency stop at Pittsburgh airport

KC-135 Stratotanker belonging to the 171st Air Refueling Wing lands at Pittsburgh International Airport on January 3, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ann Young)
November 30, 2020

A Pennsylvania Air National Guard refueling plane forced to make an emergency return to Pittsburgh International Airport on Saturday morning dumped fuel over the Jeannette-Penn Township-North Huntingdon and Manor areas, according to the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety and state Air National Guard.

The KC-135 Stratosphere was forced to turn around shortly after takeoff at 6:40 a.m. from Pittsburgh International Airport, said Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Monk, a spokesman for the National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing. The plane landed safely at the airport, Monk said.

The refueling plane, which Monk described as “basically a flying gas station,” had to dump the fuel to safely land. The nature of the emergency is under investigation, Monk said.

The Air National Guard is investigating the incident, Monk said. The Federal Aviation Administration also is involved in the probe, according to the county public safety department.

A kerosene-type odor was reported by residents reported to the county’s emergency dispatching center about 8 a.m., which prompted the emergency center to dispatch fire departments in those communities, the public safety department said.

County officials contacted Pittsburgh International Airport and the state’s Emergency Management Agency’s watch and warning center, regarding the possibility that a plane had dumped the fuel.

The elevation at the time of the dump was “high enough to not cause any major issues, but there will be an odor in the area,” the Jeannette Fire Department said on its Facebook page.

One of the Jeannette firemen saw the plane flying low and dumping the fuel from its tanks around 7 a.m., said Jeannette Fire Chief Bill Frye. Firefighters dispatched to an area of the city along the south side of Route 30 did not see any residue from the fuel, but a “strong odor” from the jet fuel lingered in the air for about two hours, Frye said.

“I smelled it outside of my house,” Frye said.

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