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NEWS | May 6, 2014

Arizona Air Guard members keep rescue mission aloft

By 1st Lt. Rebecca Garcia 161st Air Refueling Wing

PHOENIX SKY HARBOR AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ariz. - Airmen from the Arizona Air National Guard's 161st Air Refueling Wing kept multiple aircraft airborne during a rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean May 3.

The Guard members and their KC-135 Stratotanker worked with Airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base who parachuted into the water Saturday to save two critically injured Chinese sailors off the coast of Mexico. The sailors were hoisted from a Venezuelan fishing boat into HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and transported to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

At the outset, the seven-man tanker crew sprang to support the highly-complex mission. "Within a matter of minutes we were ready to deploy in support of this rescue," said Master Sgt. Dennis Abraham, 161st Air Refueling Wing crew chief.

Flight planning plays an essential role with the coordination of fuel, altitude, duration, arrival time, and the exact objective area. The plans were constantly updating the rendezvous point due to the drifting location of the sailors.

"We received the notice through a phone call Friday night and we assembled an augmented crew, which gives us twenty-four hours of crew duty to respond to a real-world emergency," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Madorski, 161st Air Refueling Wing boom operator.

An augmented crew differentiates from a basic crew because of the longer hours that they are available to stay on station for any type of search and rescue mission. A basic crew is comprised of two pilots and one boom operator, whereas an augmented crew has three pilots, two boom operators and two crew chiefs.

"Even though we have never done this kind of mission, we train diligently to execute difficult missions all the time. We are always ready, always there," said 1st Lt. Julie Keeney, KC-135 pilot. "During April drill the wing participated in a generation exercise, where we practiced a quick response. I think it allowed us enhanced our readiness to provide a quick response for real world events."

"The most impressive part to this rescue mission was the joint effort from the United States Air Force, the Arizona Air National Guard, and the other countries involved. We supported the rescue of injured Chinese sailors aboard a Venezuelan fishing vessel and I think that goes to show that we, the United States of America, are willing to deploy a rescue mission without hesitation to save anyone, anywhere, to include foreign nationals," said pilot Maj. Erik Wichmann.

"We did experience mechanical issues and they made repairs expeditiously so we could depart on time," said pilot Capt. Britton Bates.

The wing's communication navigation avionics shop diagnosed and replaced a faulty embedded navigation unit. "On short notice the Airmen rapidly changed out the entire unit with a sense of urgency knowing there was a real world situation. This is routine maintenance activity for them; however, their sense of urgency was heightened and within a matter of minutes they changed out our GPS and we were able to depart on time," said Bates.