MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. --
Marine Aircraft Group 31 coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard for a search and
rescue exercise off the coast of Charleston Nov. 3. The exercise simulated the
water rescue of two Marine pilots from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Marines and Coast Guard work together on similar operations during real world crises
so rehearsal is critical in preparation for such events.
“The whole purpose
of this exercise is to put our capabilities to the test,” said Maj. Dennis
Dalton, the SAREX mission commander and operations officer for Marine Aircraft
Group 31. “We need to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses and test our
response time for this type of incident.”
The two branches
train separately most of the time and rarely get the chance to collaborate on
“The last time we
did an exercise like this was in 2010 so it became apparent that we needed to
run another one to see what we can improve upon,” said Dalton.
revolves around simulating events that could happen in the real world and
relies on many different elements working together to rescue the pilots.
“The scenario is
that two jets from Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 had a mid-air
collision and both the pilots safely ejected into the water,” said Dalton. “For the simulation, the pilots will ride out
into the water in a USCG cutter then wait for rescue aboard a smaller vessel.”
pilots are not actually in the water for this exercise, in a real-life
situation they would need to stay afloat and survive until help arrives.
“Once a pilot
ejects from his plane after a crash the protocol is to activate his handheld
radio and wait for rescue,” said Dalton.
All pilots are
equipped with basic survival gear such as a radio and a small amount of water.
After the pilots land safely in the water, they drop a sea dye marker to make
their position known. Sea dye markers contain a fluorescent green dye that
spreads over the surface of the water to signal rescue personnel.
“One of the
variables that we are testing is how long a pilot should wait before deploying
the marker,” said Dalton. “It is possible that they will be in the water for
over an hour and the dye does not stay visible forever.”
If a pilot needs
to eject over water it is crucial that they keep their radio operational for as
long as possible.
“Once the radio is
activated, a signal is sent to the 7th Coast Guard district in Panama City,
Fla.” said Dalton. “The Coast Guard then notifies the nearest base that can
send a rescue helicopter.”
After the local
detachment has been notified, an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter flies out from USCG
Savannah, Charleston Detachment to the pilots and picks them up with rescue
swimmers or a basket.
“While the coast
guard is working on getting a helicopter out there, two F-18s from Marine
Fighter Attack Squadron 115 will serve as the first ones on the scene,” said
Dalton. “Their job is to arrive in the area, locate the pilots, and keep an eye
on the situation until rescue arrives.”
exercise of this level requires many components to work in conjunction with each
other in almost perfect synchronization to effectively accomplish the mission. Marines
and coast guardsmen can learn a lot from this type of joint operation.
“We need to
determine how long this whole process takes from start to finish. We will
evaluate each step to see if there are areas we can improve on,” said Dalton. “Once
we have gained all the knowledge we can, we will distribute the information
around the Department of Defense.”
off SAREX requires all personnel involved to work together. In a real life
emergency, responders will use the lessons learned in training to bring the
pilots home safely.