THEIR FINEST HOUR: Kadena, JASDF rescue units save downed pilot
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Within 30-minutes of an AV-8B Harrier Jump Jet crash, Airmen from the 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons were in the air intent on saving the life of the pilot stranded in the Pacific Ocean.
The pilot was able to eject from the aircraft before the crash and into the cold waters of the Pacific, where he waited for rescue.
“We received the notification of an ejection and immediately went into action,” said Capt. Paul Fry, 31st RQS combat rescue officer.
Nearly 30 minutes after the notification, both United States Air Force assets and their partner Japan Self Defense Force aircraft were on the scene searching for the downed pilot.
“Once we got the call, our helicopter maintenance unit did a great job getting our aircraft ready to go,” said Capt. Zachary Martin, 33rd RQS pilot. “We can really thank our training for the quick response because as soon as we got the call everyone just fell into their training habit patterns and we went wheels up.”
Many different units from across Kadena AB came together to get out to the pilot, who was floating in the open ocean, after ejecting from the aircraft.
“Our team linked up with our sister-squadron, the 33rd Rescue Squadron, and proceeded to fly out to save the pilot,” said Fry. “While we were going to his location we discussed the mission plan and ensured everyone was on the same page.”
And then they saw him. Ninety-five miles off the coast of Hedo Cape, Airmen and JASDF rescue members saw the lone pilot.
“As soon as we arrived on scene we saw the survivor and began the process of putting the pararescueman into the water to rescue him,” said Staff Sgt. Marcus Taylor, 33rd RQS special mission aviator.
According to Fry, the pilot seemed uninjured so one pararescueman was sent into the water to get him.
“I was actually doing a travel voucher when the call came in,” explained Staff Sgt. Austen Carroll, 31st RQS pararescueman. “So I grabbed my water bag and ran to the bird to get started. In the rescue community we are always ready to go, even at a moment’s notice.”
Once on scene, Carroll freefell about 10-feet from the helicopter into the water and immediately swam to the patient. While in the water he performed an initial assessment of the pilot to make sure he was ok to be pulled inside the helicopter.
“We were able to find him so quickly because our JASDF partners were on scene so quickly with eyes on him,” said Carroll. “Once I assessed he was ok, I got him to the hoist and we pulled him up.”
Now the Airmen had the downed pilot and began immediate medical attention.
“Once inside, we performed a more in-depth medical assessment while flying to Camp Foster where he received care,” said Fry. “The Air Force rescue community is very good at full spectrum personnel recovery in austere conditions. It really was a textbook rescue as far as mission requirements. Plus, we are able to work with our JASDF partners, who are very good at what they do, so having them there was a great demonstration of our bilateral capabilities.”
For these rescue squadron members, saving this pilot’s life is why they take their realistic training and exercises so seriously.
“This really was a total joint partnership and team effort. A bunch of people came together to save a life,” said Carroll.
For one pilot, all alone in the sea, their intense training meant the difference between his life and death.
“We train a lot for these exact types of missions so anytime we can go out and bring someone back alive, it’s a really good feeling,” said Fry.