AFRCC assists with saving 330 lives in Tennessee

By Capt. Jared Scott 601st AOC Public Affairs


TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. –After flash flooding of a nearby river in Millington, Tenn., the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center here worked with the Navy, Coast Guard and local authorities to search for people trapped in buildings at a Navy installation Saturday.

A levee breach on a nearby river caused flooding of up to five feet in some areas of the housing facilities of Naval Support Activity Mid-South.

“The on-scene Navy commander controlled search and rescue operations of the installation but requested additional air assets to assist in the search,” said Lt. Col. Charles Tomko, AFRCC commander.

After the initial call from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the AFRCC contacted the Mississippi Civil Air Patrol – as the official auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force -- to conduct air patrols to assist in search efforts of the housing area of the Naval Support Activity.

“Along with Navy and Coast Guard assets that were already involved in the search, the AFRCC provided AFAUX aircraft to aid ground and water search crews in finding stranded people,” said Tomko.

“We received the call around 4 p.m. Saturday and launched as soon as the weather allowed us to search for people stranded in the military housing area,” said Lt. Col. Carlton Sumner, AFAUX Incident commander. “We flew from approximately 6 p.m. until we ran out of daylight. We flew an additional sortie on Sunday to make sure we didn’t miss anyone.”

With the combined efforts of the Navy, Coast Guard, local authorities, CAP and AFRCC, 330 Navy personnel and their dependents were rescued from the flooded Naval Support Activity housing facilities.

As the United States’ inland search and rescue mission coordinator, the AFRCC serves as the single agency responsible for coordinating federal search and rescue activities in the 48 contiguous United States.

The rescue coordination center directly ties into the FAA’s alerting system and the U.S. Mission Control Center. In addition to Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking information, the AFRCC computer system contains resource files that list federal and state organizations which can conduct or assist in search and rescue efforts throughout North America.

The Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization with 59,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its AFAUX role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 72 lives in fiscal year 2009. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counter-drug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. CAP has been performing missions for America for 68 years.

“This levee breach in Tennessee is a prime example of how things can change in instant,” said Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, Air Forces Northern commander. “In this case, the immediate response of these trained professionals ensured that all Navy personnel and dependents were accounted for. This is a great testament to the job that all the men and women involved in this joint search and rescue mission.”