Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. --
When eight participants in a local kids fishing tournament abandoned ship July 16 while their boat sank off the North Carolina coast, the first sign of rescue was the familiar mechanical heartbeat of an approaching Marine helicopter.
Within minutes, the crew of Marine Transport Squadron 1’s HH-46E had deployed a rescue swimmer, assessed the condition of the people in the water, and pulled the first person to safety aboard the helicopter.
U.S. Navy and Coast guard boats soon arrived to pull the remaining swimmers from the water.
For the people whose boat sank that day, it was very likely a frightening experience they will never forget.
For the crew of the search and rescue helicopter Pedro, it’s what they do.
Over the course of the past year, VMR-1 search and rescue crews have aided in the rescue of 56 people through search and rescue efforts and emergency medical transports.
But rescues like this one aren’t as easy as it looks. It takes frequent and regular training to fine-tune this life-saving team.
VMR-1 conducts training daily, which allows real emergency responces like the one Friday to run smoothly. Just the day before, VMR-1 Marines performed boat hoist training two miles off the coast with the help of a Coast Guard vessel and crew from Fort Macon, N.C.
“This training is used to help VMR-1 Marines and Sailors in situations when our only option is to board a boat to extract a patient,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan E. Honnoll, a search and rescue medical technician with VMR-1.
To prepare for possible emergencies at anytime VMR-1 Marines and Sailors conduct boat hoist training during the day and night at least once a week.
“The night-time training is similar except there are more dangers,” said Honnoll. “It is a lot harder to see at night, and most of the time the water is rougher than during the daytime.”
As the HH-46E “Sea Knight” helicopter approached a Coast Guard vessel, the crewmembers prepared to be lowered into the boat.
“We will lower a corpsman and a rescue swimmer down to the vessel followed by a rescue litter,” said Sgt. Phillip W. Cambron, a search and rescue crew chief for VMR-1. “Once the crew gets the litter aboard the ship, they will load the patient as quickly and safely as possible. The two aboard use hand and arm signals to inform the crew chief that the patient is ready to be extracted.”
According to Honnoll, communication between the crew chief and pilot is vital.
“It’s important the corpsman and crew chief can communicate well, but the more important thing is to help communication between the crew chief and the pilots,” said Honnoll. “It’s the job of the crew chief to help the pilots know where they are so they can move the chopper safely. If these two parties don’t communicate well people can get hurt.”
Continuous training like boat hoists and the many exercises VMR-1 Marines and Sailors conduct everyday keep them at peak performance when a real emergency comes along.
“You never know when an accident will happen, and it’s always good to be prepared for the worst,” said King.