I just stumbled across this story on Wired.com — my apologies to anyone who has already been clubbed over the head with it, but I thought it deserving of recognition.
From the May 15, 2009, article by Chuck Squatriglia:
Staff Sgt. Bartek Bachleda knew something was amiss almost immediately after the jetliner left Chicago.
He’d looked out the window and saw what he thought was a fuel leak. He’d know, because he’s a boom operator with the 909th Air Refueling Station based at Kadena Air Base in Japan. That’s where he was headed. He was one of 300 people aboard the flight bound for Narita.
Sgt. Bachleda took it upon himself to advise the flight attendants, who at first did not believe the situation to be serious. Only after he recorded video of the leak and persuaded them to show it to the aircraft’s captain did the flight officers realize the gravity of the situation: the aircraft was losing 6,000 pounds of fuel per hour.
According to a press release by the U.S. Air Force, the flight (whose airline was not named) was safely diverted to San Francisco before it had a chance to embark on an ocean crossing that, according to the aircraft’s captain, it would not have completed.
For remaining calm in the face of danger, collecting the necessary evidence to alert the flight crew, averting a disaster, and saving the lives of approximately 300 passengers and crew, I am happy to declare United States Air Force Staff Sergeant Bartek Bachleda a Great Human Being.
ETA: As of May 22, the airline in question has been identified by CNN as United Airlines. Also, according to their reporting, the flight crew was already aware of the problem, had no intention of attempting an ocean crossing, and was already discussing options when Bachleda’s report reached the cockpit.