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Harrier pilot awarded Air Medal for emergency landing

Successfully putting a damaged AV-8B Harrier down on an amphibious assault ship at sea last year earned Capt. William Mahoney the Marine Corps Air Medal.

Mere minutes after launching from the deck of amphibious assault ship Bataan while in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operation with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in June, Mahoney realized he had a problem: malfunctioning landing gear. The failure left him with the options of either attempting a risky landing or ditching the aircraft into the sea.

Working with the control tower, the Harrier pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced) learned the ship boasted a crash cradle. The unique piece of equipment is built to the height of a Harrier's nose and, for Mahoney, presented a way to bring the roughly 30,000-pound aircraft down aboard the Bataan.

Using the Harrier's ability to take off and land vertically, Mahoney descended upon the cradle. But his position obscured any view of the emergency equipment. He had to land sight unseen.

The entire emergency landing was caught on video. The film shows the nose of Mahoney's Harrier coming down forcefully on the bench, hard enough to bounce several times before coming to a rest.

The gravity of the situation hit Mahoney moments later.

AV-8B no gear landing on USS Bataan

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. William Mahoney talks about his experience during a controlled landing after his front landing gear malfunctioned on the aircraft aboard the USS Bataan, at sea, June 7, 2014.

"I remember feeling it just hit and that's it, but then I had to sit there for a minute and remember how to turn the jet off and shut everything off," he said, according to a news release. "It was just a pretty big relief and I didn't realize how much I was shaking until I actually got out of the aircraft."

For his actions, Mahoney received the Air Medal from Col. William Dunn, who commanded the MEU, on February 12. Dunn praised Mahoney for saving the aircraft. It returned to action before the end of the pump, he said.

"In the world of ejection seat aircraft, it is not always the first choice to bring the airplane back after something like this and risk the pilot, but this was incredible," Dunn said in a release.

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