Group rescues man at sea

  • Published
A medical emergency at sea turned into a dramatic humanitarian mission for the 920th Rescue Group here Dec. 8. The emergency also provided the unit its first chance to use a new satellite-based tracking and communications system during a rescue.

Crews from Air Force Reserve Command's 920th RQG was dispatched at 7:15 a.m. on two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and one HC-130P/N aircraft to locate, recover, treat and transport an ailing man on a commercial fishing vessel approximately 500 miles off Florida's eastern coast.

Mike Swann of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was the ship's captain. He was suffering from complications related to kidney stones. Crews from the 920th RQG reached him at about 11 a.m.

Pararescue specialists jumped from a helicopter into the ocean, swam to Swann's ship and boarded it. They assessed the situation and decided to stabilize Swann, put him on a hoist and lift him up into the helicopter.

"The patient was in extreme distress and ran the risk of infection due to the kidney stones. He needed to be evacuated," said Master Sgt. Doug Kestranek, one of the pararescumen who boarded the 75-foot ship.

After Swann was safely aboard the helicopter, he was flown to an area adjacent to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla., and transferred to Brevard County paramedics. They took him to Holmes where he was treated and released later that night.

Swann's wife, Anna Maria, was on the scene when the HH-60 helicopter carrying him landed near Holmes.

"The Air Force really came through for us," she said. "I can't thank them enough. They put so much effort into this, it was like a military operation. I don't think people realize what our Air Force can do for us. It's not just going to war. It's helping citizens in need ... in cases like this with search and rescue."

This was the first rescue conducted anywhere using a new, state-of-the-art system called the Global Personnel Recovery System. This system was installed in 920th RQG helicopters last week. It is a quantum technology leap for combat rescue capabilities and also has applications for other types of military missions, said rescue officials.

Using satellites to transmit data back to command centers where the mission can be visually monitored on a screen, GPRS provides near real-time tracking globally. GPRS also provides two-way instant messaging between people at the home base and the crews flying the mission.

"We can maintain constant communication with our crews and actually watch them operate through every phase of a rescue mission from (the commander center)," said Maj. Marc DiPaolo, an HH-60 pilot with the group. "It doesn't matter if they're off the coast of Florida or in Korea."

"Being able to watch this mission evolve and communicate instantly with the aircrew from start to finish was the ultimate warm fuzzy," said Col. Tim Tarchick, commander of the 920th RQG. "We're ushering in new technology here at the 920th Rescue Group that will provide a true advantage for our warfighters, as well as enhance our humanitarian and space support operations."

"It's a great feeling to know we helped that gentleman live to see more days with his family," Kestranek said.