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Injured commercial sailor rescued by PJs
A California Air National Guard pararescueman from the 131st Rescue Squadron, Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., hoist down to a merchant vessel, Nov. 29, 2012. The pararescuemen rescued an injured commercial sailor 300 miles southwest of the coast of Cabo San Lucas. (photo courtesy by California Air National Guard)
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 LT COL ROBERT L "BOB" RUSSELL IV
Talk about teamwork

Posted 1/18/2013   Updated 1/18/2013 Email story   Print story

    


by Mary McHale
AFNORTH Public Affairs


1/18/2013 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- For the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, the year 2012 meant not only teamwork among United States agencies nationwide but internationally as well.

"2012 went extremely well," said Lt. Col. Robert Russell, AFRCC commander. "The AFRCC was notified of 6,299 incidents, 755 went to mission and we had 172 saves.

The commander explained the process from report of incident to closure.

"The AFRCC supports the civil search and rescue, or civil SAR, effort from incident notification to mission closure," he said. "When an incident occurs, the AFRCC controller immediately launches an investigative process. Often incidents are closed without the requirement to activate federal assets. "

Russell explained that when federal assets are activated the incident "goes to mission."

There are three different kinds of events the AFRCC may go to mission for: emergency beacon alerts, aircraft incidents and non-aircraft incidents.

For Russell, it was two non-aircraft incidents in international waters that stood out in 2012. Both involved foreign seagoing vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard, a California Air National Guard rescue wing and Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico.

"Many people are not aware that the AFRCC stands ready to assist other rescue centers when necessary, such as the U.S. Coast Guard who are primarily responsible for waterborne SAR," he said. "And not only do we have mutual agreements with U.S. based rescue centers, but rescue coordination centers around the world as well. SAR is a worldwide cooperative effort."

Of the two incidents in Mexico, it was a team effort between the AFRCC, the USCG, the 129th Rescue Wing from Moffet Field CA., and the Mexican Rescue Coordination Center.
In one instance, Air National Guard pararescuemen were hoisted onto the vessel 300 miles off the Pacific Coast from HH-60 helicopters. They then prepared the patient, who had a severe head injury, for transport to a land-based medical facility.

In another instance, this one 700 miles off the Pacific Coast, the pararescuemen, again from the 129th RQW, parachuted into the water from the back of a MC-130 Combat Shadow aircraft along with an inflatable Zodiac boat. With the boat approached the vessel, in this case a Chinese fishing boat, and climbed aboard. In this case they prepared two injured fisherman for transport.

"These missions stand out because of their complexity along with the mutual coordination and cooperation of all involved," Russell said. "The Coast Guard was instrumental in securing country clearances with the Mexican Rescue Coordination Center so the U.S. rescue crews could focus on the mission at hand."

Of course the AFRCC also had several successful missions inside the United States, and Russell said when an incident does go to mission, the Civil Air Patrol usually gets the call.

"I cannot say enough about how valuable CAP is," he said. "More than 80 percent of our missions are done by them. An all-volunteer organization, they stand trained and ready whenever and wherever needed. Without them, we would be scrambling for other federal resources who may or may not be trained in search and rescue."

Missions that involve CAP assets include active flying, cell phone forensics, radar forensics and ground based searches.

"When we call for CAP support, it's usually the case that local authorities realize the situation exceeds their capabilities, so they request assistance. Once our rescue controllers get the call, they in turn call the particular state's CAP wing, specifically the wing's alerting officer, who is available 24/7."

But, as Russell pointed out, not every incident goes to mission, in fact, a majority do not.

"In the case of aircraft incidents, it usually turns out to be a matter of not closing out the flight plan," he explained. "With beacons, it's often an accidental alert."

He stressed however, each reported incident is thoroughly investigated.

"The key point is to treat every incident as distress until proven otherwise, not the other way around."



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