MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- A crowd gathered at the Air Station Headquarters parade deck on April 15, to bid farewell to an Angel and an era.
After nearly half a century of service to the Tri-Command and the local community, Angel One and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Search and Rescue crew will no longer grace the Lowcountry’s skies. A divestiture ceremony was held to commend the crew and to honor SAR’s role in the military and civilian community.
Search and rescue is being phased out because of the age and maintenance cost of the unit’s HH-46D helicopters. Divesting the SAR capability will save the Marine Corps approximately $16 million per year in combined maintenance costs, according to the Pentagon and Headquarters Marine Corps.
Fightertown’s first helicopter unit came to Beaufort in 1957 to perform rapid search and rescue operations. In 48 years of service, SAR responded mostly to precautionary emergency landings by Air Station jets. However, Angel One and her crew of Marines and Sailors have participated in other military missions such as medical evacuations, downed pilot recoveries, aerial photography and VIP transport.
Throughout the years SAR has also served the local civilian community. Angel One has been used to conduct missing person searches, hospital transport, community relations events and to aid lost boaters.
Both the Air Station and the local community will feel the impact of SAR’s departure, according to Col. Harmon A. Stockwell, commanding officer, MCAS Beaufort.
“When you consider the loss of SAR, it’s not actually just how MCAS will be affected,” Stockwell said. “The local community will also be affected by this transition.
“Several times we would get a call for a life flight that civilians were not equipped to handle, and now we won’t be there. There will definitely be a loss felt.”
With the divestiture, the United States Coast Guard seventh district in Savannah and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center will be taking over Beaufort SAR responsibilities.
The 42 Marines and Sailors that comprised the Beaufort SAR unit will be reassigned to various units throughout the Marine Corps.
“I’ll be going to MCAS New River where I can be attached to a deployable unit,” said Sgt. James A. Lee, crew chief, Air Station SAR. “I’m sad to see it go. We were a pretty tight unit so most of us are trying to get to the same units.”
A job as demanding as SAR requires a high caliber of training, which will help the crew members to succeed when they leave Beaufort, according to Lt. Col. Jefrey M. Arnold, commanding officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.
“Every one of them has a great opportunity for the future because of their experience here,” Arnold said. “Many of them were personally selected for follow-on jobs.”
In addition to the crew, the three helicopters will be going their separate ways. One HH-46D will be kept permanently on display at the Air Station, another will be sent to MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., and the last helicopter will be sent to MCAS Yuma, Ariz.
“The service that SAR has provided for the past 48 years has been phenomenal,” Stockwell said. “You always knew Angel One would be there to take care of you. The Coast Guard is more than capable of doing a good job, but there will definitely be a loss felt at the Air Station and in the local community.”