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KC-135 crew finds missing mariners on Pacific island

By Master Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger | 36th Wing | Aug. 5, 2020

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – National Guard members from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard, and the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, found three missing mariners during a search and rescue mission in the Federated States of Micronesia southwest of Guam Aug. 2.

On July 29, three mariners aboard a 23-foot white and blue skiff departed Puluwat Atoll intending to travel approximately 21 nautical miles to Pulap, Chuuk. However, they never made it to their destination and were reported missing.

“Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received notification of an overdue skiff last seen in the vicinity of Chuuk and requested our assistance,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Shaun McRoberts, 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations. “Once notified, we began immediately working a plan to launch crews to locate the missing vessel.”

Hawaii Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, Maj. Byron Kamikawa, Tech. Sgt. Shane Williams and Pennsylvania Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Rodney Joseph and Senior Airman Jeremy Williams took off from Andersen AFB in their KC-135 Stratotanker to find the missing vessel.

Almost three hours into their mission and flying at about 1,500 feet, the crew located the mariners on the tiny island of Pikelot, Yap.

“We were toward the end of our search pattern,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot. “We turned to avoid some rain showers, and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out, and that’s when we saw SOS and a boat right next to it on the beach. From there, we called in the Australian Navy because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island.”

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra (L02) was also in the region and agreed to divert and provide search sorties with embarked helicopters while the FSS Independence departed from Yap to assist.

A helicopter crew from HMAS Canberra delivered supplies to the stranded mariners while a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, airdropped a radio and message block informing them the FSS Independence was en-route to rescue and return them home.

"Partnerships," said U.S Coast Guard Capt. Christopher Chase, Coast Guard Sector Guam, commander. "This is what made this search and rescue case successful. Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families.”

At 12 a.m., Aug. 3, the Independence arrived, launched a small boat crew and rescued the mariners.