Navy fighter pilots found themselves in a life threatening situation over America’s Pacific Northwest last month, as the cabin pressure and air temperature systems failed in their EA-18G Growler.

The two-man crew from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine were cruising at approximately 25,000 feet some 60 miles south of Seattle Washington at the time of the failure, according to Defense News, who broke this story. Warning lights illuminated the cockpit indicating problems with the systems required to maintain the temperature and air pressurization within the fighter jet’s cockpit, immediately plummeting the interior temperature to approximately negative 30 degrees and putting a layer of ice over the cockpit canopy and instrumentation panels. The crew were forced to switch to the emergency oxygen supply, which was found completely depleted by the end of the dramatic flight.

With the environmental control system down, the pilots found themselves unable to use visual cues on the horizon and with limited access to their instrumentation – but perhaps worst of all, being subjected to such extreme temperatures can have an immediate effect on one’s ability to control fine motor function, as well as reducing cognitive capabilities and response times.

The human body’s survival response to extreme cold is, first, to redirect all blood flow away from the extremities in order to keep the internal organs warm enough to function, hence the pins and needles one might experience at the early onset of frostbite. As the blood drains from the limbs, the grow slower and less responsive, reducing dexterity. In a supersonic capable EA-18G Growler, loss of motor function in the pilot’s hands and feet can mean certain disaster.