What they later found out was the pilot had contacted the ARTCC via cell phone because the single-engine, six-seat aircraft had had a total electrical failure, and its transponder and navigational equipment weren't working.
The pilot was lost and running out of fuel quickly. The mission would have to wait.
The crew descended from 16,000 to the smaller aircraft's altitude of 3,500 feet, and began to look for the small plane in the weather-stricken sky.
"Our immediate fear was that with the cloud decks 10,000 feet and below, if the pilot went into them there would be no way of telling where he was," said the captain.They soon found the tiny plane and received instructions from the ARTCC to have the plane follow the C-130 aircrew west to better weather. But that was easier said than done.The pilot's only way of communicating with the ARTCC was unreliable and kept cutting in and out.
He had no way of knowing if the aircraft was there to help, and soon the aircraft would be going into a non-radar-covered area.
"We circled him once, but he didn't follow," said Lt. Col. Tim Anderson, 314th Operations Support Squadron and the mission instructor navigator. "We did it again, and he saw us and started to follow."
Thinking the rest would be as easy as escorting the aircraft to an airport, the crew quickly realized they would have to slow down in order for the pilot to keep up."
The challenge was the C-130 doesn't fly at civil aircraft speeds," said Captain Gourde. "We had to slow down."
"His maximum speed is the low end of our speed," said Colonel Anderson.But it wasn't enough. "At one point we were still pulling away, so we had to circle and slow down again," said Captain Gourde.With the help of another civilian aircraft, the crew was able to locate a dirt landing strip west of Paris, Texas. By this time the pilot had 10 minutes, or about 20 miles, of fuel left -- just enough to do an approach and land safely.
The crew watched the pilot land and then ascended back to the clouds to finish their training mission -- feeling happy for helping someone in a way they normally don't, said the captain.
"This is what it is all about," said Tech. Sgt. Jerry Pritt, 62nd Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "When everybody comes together to help ... teamwork.
"It was a great flight to be a part of," said Captain Gourde. "It's not often that you get to make an immediate impact on the lives of people outside our normal (scope)."