AFRCC coordinates joint lifesaving mission off California coast

By Lt. Col. Susan Romano | AFNORTH Public Affairs | April 02, 2010

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – When the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center here received a call from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Rescue Coordination Center at 3:50 p.m. Thursday about an injured passenger aboard a deep sea fishing vessel 1,400 miles off the coast of California, controllers immediately responded by coordinating rescue assets from the California Air National Guard and the U.S. Marine Corps.

California Air National Guard Pararescuemen from the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Federal Airfield near San Francisco flew with the U.S. Coast Guard aboard an HC-130 transport plane to where the vessel was located in the Pacific. Once the aircraft made visual contact with the ship, the pararescuemen – or PJs – jumped into the cold ocean water complete with life-saving gear and first aid equipment to help the critically injured passenger.

Once the PJs reached the passenger, they were able to stabilize him and provide the urgent care that stemmed from an on-deck accident that caused major skull and throat damage.

Because of the distance from shore, dangerously strong winds and high seas, officials have decided it would be best to bring the vessel closer to the coast in order to send additional rescue aircraft to retrieve the PJs and transport the patient to a ground-based medical treatment facility.

The current plan is to send two California Air National Guard HH-60 helicopters from Moffett Field in San Francisco and a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to the vessel when it is within 400 miles of the coastline. The HH-60 crewmembers will perform the actual extraction, while the KC-130 will serve as a refueling platform for the helicopters.

“This is exactly what we are trained to do,” said Lt. Col. Clifton Hicks, AFRCC director of operations. “Rescues of this nature require a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect between all Service branches, which is definitely the case here as we are working in synchronization with the Marines, the Coast Guard and of course our fellow Airmen.”