U.S. Forces Japan commander reconnects with Japanese service members who saved his life
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John L. Dolan, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, headquartered at Yokota Air Base, set aside time to reconnect with the courageous Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force members who saved his life over two decades ago, during a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 29, 2015.
Rear Adm. Naoki Sonoda, commander of JMSDF, Fleet Air Wing 31, and Cmdr. Kasutaka Tateishi, commanding officer of Air Rescue Squadron 71, stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, welcomed Dolan at the JMSDF hangar as he approached the three gentlemen who rescued him at sea, Jan. 23, 1992.
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Warrant Officer Fumio Ootaki, Chief Petty Officer Yukihiro Kamouchi, and Chief Petty Officer Noriaki Tazaki with Air Rescue Squadron 71, departed from Naval Air Facility Atsugi in a US-1A 9081 to locate Dolan after he ejected from an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, 630 nautical miles east of Tokyo.
“I was a flight engineer and this was my first rescue mission … and first time landing on the ocean,” said Ootaki. “When we were going toward that area, I was hoping there would be no trouble. I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough fuel and after calculating the area and the situation, we could only stay 30 minutes. We were worried if we could even find him and actually land.”
While serving as an F-16 instructor pilot, flight examiner, and assistant chief of standards and evaluation at Misawa Air Base, Dolan departed that day for the Coronet West 30 deployment to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., when a KC-135 Stratotanker unexpectedly struck him from below during collision avoidance maneuvers.
Dolan’s F-16 became uncontrollable and soon crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Almost five hours later, JMSDF rescue aircraft crew arrived to the scene.
“When we approached the area and began lowering in altitude, we realized the waves were really high and made it a very challenging situation,” said Kamouchi. “I wanted to pick him up and rescue him as soon as possible.”
JMSDF Cmdr. Hideki Kida, US-1A pilot commander, and his crew were among the men who risked their lives to rescue Dolan.
“They were heroic that day, and I will tell you that I would not be standing before you now if it was not for the bravery of Cmdr. Kida and his crew,” said Dolan as he assumed command of USFJ and 5th Air Force, June 5, 2015.
Dolan reminisced with the gentlemen about the events of that day and expressed sincere gratitude for saving his life. Before departing the hangar, Dolan humbly shook each of the gentlemen’s hands and gave them his personal challenge coin as a sign of appreciation for all they did, and all they continue to do.
“It was great to reconnect with him,” said Ootaki. “I can remember well when we rescued him, and I was so glad to see him still in such good health.”