In a risky mission, Moffett Field's 129th Rescue Wing yesterday completed a complex rescue operation to airlift a seriously injured crewman from a fishing boat 600 miles off the California coast. The multi-day operation required a medical airdrop, an aerial refueling and eventually an airlift to bring the injured fisherman back to a local hospital.
The operation began on Sunday morning when the U.S. Coast Guard received calls for help from the captain of the Gutsy Lady 4, a tuna fishing boat located at the time about 1,100 miles west of the California coast. One of the crew members, a 30-year-old Micronesian man, had suffered a serious injury and needed immediate help. U.S. Coast Guard officials notified the California Air National Guard's 129 Rescue Wing of the emergency.
Later that morning, the 129 Rescue Wing launched a MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft to drop a medication bundle to the fishing boat. Thanks to the medicine, the injured man was reportedly stable, but he needed to get a hospital, said Capt. Roderick Bersamina.
"It was clearly known that we needed to evacuate this person," he said. "We directed the Gutsy Lady to the medication and also the game plan for the patient's evacuation."
As the fishing boat made a beeline back to mainland, the Rescue Wing prepared their plans to rendezvous with the vessel 600 miles from the California coast. Early Tuesday morning, the team dispatched a MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft and two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters with a pararescue team to meet with the boat.
Given the long distance, the helicopters needed to refuel en route, and a U.S. Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron from the Miramar air base in San Diego met the 129th Rescue Wing to assist. It was a high-risk operation to line up a fuel hose with the rescue helicopters, Bersamina explained.
"This required a fixed-wing aircraft to slow down to its slowest gliding speed, and having a helicopters speeding up to its fastest speed in order for them to meet up," he said. "And things are bouncing around the whole time."
Arriving at the boat, the rescue team boarded the fishing boat, stabilized the injured man and hoisted him onto one of the helicopters. The rescue fleet immediately flew back to deliver the patient to San Jose Regional Medical Center.
The exact nature of the fisherman's injury is not clear. Bersamina could only describe it as resulting from the man's duties on the fishing boat.
The Rescue Wing captain chalked up Tuesday's rescue as his team's 1,016th life successfully saved. He pointed out the 129th Rescue Wing consists mainly of part-time guardsmen who hold down full-time civilian jobs besides their military service.
"On a day-to-day basis, our team is doctors, engineers, teachers and firefighters. Our unit prides itself on being a close reflection of the community," he said. "Our focus is to save lives, and we really feel that this is the greatest mission in the entire U.S. Air Force.
"It doesn't get any better than this."