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Fightertown SAR rescues downed pilot

2 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. Justin V. Eckersley

What began as a simple training exercise turned into a serious rescue operation for the Air Station Search and Rescue team, March 24.

A routine skills maintenance exercise was cut short when Angel One radioed SAR headquarters. At 12:20 p.m., the crew had received a report of an aviation mishap and were responding. The situation took an ironic twist when the SAR team learned that the downed aircraft was actually an F/A-18 Hornet, according to Master Sgt. Eugene Becerra, maintenance chief, SAR.

“We received a call from station operations about five minutes later that it was one of the Air Station’s jets involved in the mishap,” Becerra said.

As soon as Angel One contacted SAR headquarters, maintenance control began mustering a second team to man Angel Two. At 12:45 p.m., 25 minutes after the initial call from Angel One, Angel Two was not only manned, but airborne.

“They did a really great job getting that second plane up,” Becerra stated. “It just shows how effective their training is.”
When Angel One arrived at the last known position of the downed Hornet, the crew immediately saw signs of the crash, according to Cpl. Joshua M. Samuels, rescue swimmer, SAR.

“There were a couple of oil slicks in the water,” Samuels said. “While we were looking for him, the pilot popped some orange smoke, and we followed it.”

The pilot of Angel One, Maj. Tim R. Etherton, brought the helicopter to a low hover, just ten feet over the water. The crew finally spotted the pilot, floating15-20 yards away, according to Samuels.

“He was floating in his raft, so I jumped in and swam over to him,” Samuels said. “I checked him over for entanglements and got him out of the raft. He seemed alright, just really cold.”

Samuels signaled the crew to send him a safety net, so the pilot could be hoisted into the craft. By the time Samuels was actually in the helicopter, the in-flight medical technician, Hospitalman 3rd Class Andrew Jones, was already checking the pilot’s blood pressure and heart rate.

The pilot was flown to nearby Hunter Army Airfield so that he could be transported to a trauma unit and treated for any potential problems. Angel One then returned to the Air Station, relieved at the smoothness of their operation.

“Everything went perfect, like clockwork” Samuels said. “We did just what we trained for.”

Without the continued support of the Marines and Sailors working in maintenance to keep Angel One in great condition, the crew would not even be able to make a rescue attempt, according to Samuels.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Samuels said.