Rescue At Sea - Navy Style

Author Unknown

Contributed by John Ingram


It has been awhile since we ran a story about our Big Brother service so here goes --

There is nothing blacker than an overcast sky at sea at night!!!

Here's the story from one of the US Navy Sailors involved in the rescue of the 4 USAF Crewmembers. A good read from the rescuer's point of view. The Navy comes through again....

"As everyone knows, we had a busy night. No matter what you hear on the news, this is the story:

We watched on radar and talked on radio to this B-1 that left Diego Garcia around 2100 hours last night. At about 100 nautical miles out, they called in an emergency. One of their engines was out and they couldn't get it going again. They turned around and started heading back, stating that they were okay and that they would get back to Diego Garcia and fly around the island a little to burn off extra fuel, then land. They didn't make it back. Shortly after the u-turn, they disappeared from our scopes without a trace.

It's close to 2200 when this goes down and the Captain gets on 1MC (announcing system) to tell us what happened. We head straight for their last position at over 30 knots. On our way there, we started preparing for the worst. We manned up our two RHIB's (rigid hulled inflatable boats) with a whole bunch of guys and gear. We had night vision gear, blankets, first aid, stretchers, Gatorade (they were pretty happy about the Gatorade), and a whole bunch of other stuff. Each boat had a corpsman (for medical help), signalman (in case the radios died), engineer (to fix the boat), officer (to be in charge), coxswain (he drives the RHIB), a seaman (to do anything the coxswain says), and a rescue swimmer to bring the pilots out of the water.

Onboard the ship, they are preparing stretchers and stretcher bearers. All sorts of lookouts are being manned. It was a pretty hectic transit.

So the Captain gets on the 1MC announcing system again, and tells us what he knows. "A B-1 bomber went down. They have a crew of four. We are talking to one of the pilots on his rescue radio. He is in his life raft and doing okay. He can hear voices around him. Where they are is a shallow area that the ship can't get to. We are going to stop about 5 - 10 miles away and send the RHIB's down the bearing to the pilots." 

Just when we stop and begin to put the RHIB's in the water, he gets on again. "Two pilots are now together and in their rafts and doing okay. They can hear voices around them still." So I'm now thinking that all four are accounted for and alive and talking.

This is good.

We dropped the RHIB's into the water. Mine went in second. Then, it didn't start... but that's what the engineer is for. It only took a few minutes to discover a loose cable on the battery. We got going a mile or two behind the other RHIB. On our way out, we could smell all of the jet fuel. All I was thinking was that I hope I don't have to swim in it. After about 7 miles, the other RHIB said that they had found the two that were talking on the radio. We slowed down a bit and begin to close in on their location.

We were looking all around. So were the planes. There were three planes all doing low flying runs this way and that way with their landing lights on. It was kind of wild.

As I watched the water that one was lighting up I saw a flash. As the plane flew by and the area darkened, it was easy to see a strobe light not too far from us. We jammed straight for it. When we got closer and slowed down, we saw that it was indeed a pilot. He said that he was okay, so we just leaned over and pulled him in. The ejection process is a pretty violent evolution.

He had 'rope burns' on his arm and neck and face from various straps and stuff pulling tight when the chute opened. He was pretty stiff and sore, too. Also, he didn't have his raft. It was torn away from him at some point before he got to the water.

At this point we were told to transfer our guy to the other RHIB with the two guys in it. Then, they were going to take them back and we would stay and look for the fourth. As we were about to start over to meet the other RHIB, we saw a flare. All three pilots said, don't worry about us, lets go get our buddy. So, both boats headed straight for him. We got there about the same time as the other one. We decided that we'd pick him up to even out the loads in the RHIB. I actually got to get into the water for this one.

The guy was in his raft and we didn't want to get too close because we might foul our prop on his parachute or sea anchor. I jumped in and swam up to him. "Good evening, my name is Jim and I'll be your Rescue Swimmer for the evening."  It got me a smile and a chuckle - this guy is okay, too. He asked me what the drill is to get him out of the raft and into the RHIB. I tell him that he rolls out and I give him my floatation device. Roger that.

He rolls out and grabs the SAR-1 (floatation device.) I grab him, and we kick over to the boat. They lifted him into the RHIB and we were on our way. Mission complete, job well done.

On the way back, they told us what happened. Once their engine failed, other systems started dropping offline, too. They were down to one generator when the last straw came. The attitude (not altitude) indicator malfunctioned. Now they couldn't tell if they were flying level or not. And when they did figure it out, they were flying upside down and heading for the water. At night with calm seas and the stars reflecting on the water, it looks like sky all around. So they all ejected at over 15,000 feet. Kind of a wild story...

Anyhow, the Captain gave us a holiday routine today, so I am going back to bed."

Return To Coast Guard Stories