Quick-thinking by the crew of a US Air Force refueling plane has saved the life of a pilot and his expensive F-16 fighter jet over Islamic State territory, according to a media report.
The F-16 had been trying to refuel in mid-air when the pilot discovered a malfunction with his fuel system, which meant he could only fly for 15 minutes - nowhere near enough to reach safety.
Instead of leaving the pilot to fend for himself, the KC-135 Stratotanker tanker crew decided to diverge from its area of responsibility, and safely escorted the F-16 to its base while refueling every 15 minutes on the way to allied airspace, CNN reported.
Without mid-air refuelling, the pilot faced the dangerous prospect of having to eject over Islamic State territory.
US Air Force commander Lt Col Eric Hallberg said: “Over 80 per cent of his total fuel capability was trapped and unusable.
“Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could’ve been an international tragedy a feel-good news story,” Hallberg said on the incident that happened last year.
The jet first ran into trouble when it connected to the KC-135 but was forced to disconnect after taking on 500lbs of fuel - just a fifth of the 2,500lbs it should have had.
After a second failed attempt to refuel, the pilot ran through a checklist and was able to tell the tanker crew about the fuel emergency.
The Air Force did not say where the incident took place or which country the F-16 pilot was from.
The tanker crew’s actions may have saved the airman from a fate like that of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, who was shown being burned alive in pictures and video by Islamic State extremists after he ejected and was captured.
As of February 10, the US and its coalition partners have conducted a total of 10,242 strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.