Rescue center members assist with saving 330 lives in Tennessee

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jared Scott
  • 601st Air and Space Operations Center Public Affairs
After flash flooding May 1, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center officials here worked with the Navy, Coast Guard and local authorities to search for people trapped in buildings at a Navy installation in Millington, Tenn.

A levee breach on a nearby river caused flooding of up to 5 feet in some areas of the housing facilities of Naval Support Activity Mid-South.

"The on-scene Navy commander controlled search and rescue operations of the installation, but requested additional air assets to assist in the search," said Lt. Col. Charles Tomko, the AFRCC commander.

After the initial call from Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials, AFRCC members contacted Mississippi Civil Air Patrol officials, the official auxiliary to the Air Force, to conduct air patrols to assist in search efforts of the housing area of the Naval Support Activity.

"Along with Navy and Coast Guard assets that were already involved in the search, the AFRCC provided CAP aircraft to aid ground and water search crews in finding stranded people," Colonel Tomko said.

"We received the call around 4 p.m. (May 1) and launched as soon as the weather allowed us to search for people stranded in the military housing area," said Lt. Col. Carlton Sumner, the CAP incident commander. "We flew from approximately 6 p.m. until we ran out of daylight. We flew an additional sortie on (May 2) to make sure we didn't miss anyone."

With the combined efforts of Navy, Coast Guard, local, CAP and AFRCC officials, 330 Navy people were rescued from the flooded Naval Support Activity housing facilities.

As the United States' inland search and rescue mission coordinator, AFRCC members are responsible for coordinating federal search and rescue activities in the 48 contiguous United States.

The rescue coordination center directly ties into both the Federal Aviation Administration's alerting system and the U.S. Mission Control Center. In addition to Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking information, the AFRCC computer system contains resource files that list federal and state organizations which can conduct or assist in search and rescue efforts throughout North America.

The Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization with 59,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its auxillary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions, and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 72 lives in fiscal year 2009. CAP volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counter-drug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. CAP members performed missions for 68 years.

"This levee breach in Tennessee is a prime example of how things can change in (an) instant," said Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, the Air Forces Northern commander. "In this case, the immediate response of these trained professionals ensured that all Navy personnel and dependents were accounted for. This is a great testament to the job that all the men and women involved in this joint search and rescue mission."