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AFRCC Manages Complex, Multi-Day Mission

  • Published
  • By Mary McHale
  • AFNORTH Public Affairs
A late Friday afternoon call to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center kicked off a complex, multi-day rescue mission in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

According to Lt. Col. Ian Kemp, AFRCC commander, the initial call for this particular mission was from the U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu. A Venezuelan tuna fishing vessel, named The Falcon, contacted that center and reported they had come to the aid of a Chinese fishing vessel that had caught fire and sunk. The Falcon had brought aboard 11 Chinese fishermen, some of whom were severely burned and required extensive medical care.

While the mission was within a USCG search and rescue region, neither USCG or Pacific Fleet units were able to respond because of the remote location, approximately midway between Hawaii and Mexico.

"Our first call was to the 563rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, specifically to the 79th Rescue Squadron, to ask about their capabilities," Kemp said. "Knowing that the mission was at the extreme range of our longest-ranged rescue forces, I determined a call to the HC-130Js - the U.S. Air Force's newest and most capable fixed-wing rescue platform - was required."

Kemp said the 79th RQS quickly developed two potential courses of action to get pararescuemen to the critically-injured Chinese fisherman. In all, the rescue group deployed two HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, along with three HH-60G Pavehawks and 10 Guardian Angel personnel, totaling 49 Airmen from the group's 48th, 79th and 55th Rescue Squadrons. The mission they conducted would take them 1,100 nautical miles off the Pacific coast of Mexico, last several days and involve the assistance of the USCG, Air National Guard along with counterparts Mexico.

After the injured sailors were stabilized aboard the Venezuelan vessel, they were transported to a medical facility in San Diego.

"We not only rescue pilots, we are prepared to rescue anyone, anytime, anywhere, when tasked by the AFRCC," said Col. Sean Choquette, 563rd RQG commander. "Our Airmen train diligently to execute difficult missions like this one."

The AFRCC commander explained during an ongoing mission, the AFRCC acts as an information and coordination clearing house for the mission.

"We ensured that supporting capabilities and assets were made available so that the rescue forces could accomplish their mission."

To that end, Kemp credits the training and experience of his SAR staff.

"The training and experience that my SAR duty officers and SAR controllers have is critical in missions of this nature," he said. "Our 'Rolodex' of contacts across the globe - and in particular the Southwest, Hawaii and Mexico for this mission - enable professional and timely notification and activation of life-saving capabilities."

He continued. "I'm proud to be a member of our U.S. Air Force rescue forces, proud to work alongside the professional rescue search and rescue duty officers and controllers at the AFRCC and grateful for the opportunity that we have to save lives each and every day. It's like our motto says, 'These things we do that others may live.'"