MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- As they approach a dense forest, the search and rescue crew realizes they do not have enough room to land their aircraft. As dehydrated, exhausted children on the ground wave their arms at the crew to signal for help, the crew realizes they must rappel from the aircraft in order to save the children's lives.
A scenario like this can happen during any season. A similar incident occurred on Presidents Day when local children wandered off into the Croatan National Forest. In preparation for such real-life scenarios, Marines and Sailors with Marine Transport Squadron 1 train to rescue stranded casualties.
The search and rescue crew conducted rappel currency training and search and rescue flights May 10, with the help of an HH-46E Sea Knight affectionately referred to as “Pedro” and a Coast Guard cutter from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C.
The Marines and Sailors at VMR-1 are no strangers to Coast Guardsmen and their fleet of ships. The two branches have a continued history of working together to accomplish their life-saving missions.
The two training flights allowed the search and rescue swimmers and other members of the team to maintain currency and proficiency in basic and direct deployment rappels, live hoisting and in-flight recovery over land and sea.
“This training is useful because it helps us adapt to nearly every situation we come across,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony J. DiCola, a search and rescue crew chief with VMR-1.
For most of the crew, the procedures they went through are already ingrained in their muscle memory, said Cpl. Kyle B. Smith, a search and rescue swimmer with the squadron. He also said they don’t often get to use some techniques they practiced.
“This training not only benefits rescue swimmers,” said Smith. “The entire crew gains something because this gives us a wider range of options to use during missions.”
The most important purpose of the training flights was to give Cpl. Kyle A. Allesandro, a rescue swimmer in training, more experience and the flight hours he needs to work toward becoming fully-qualified, said Smith.
Smith said Allesandro benefitted from the training.
“I love sharing the things I’ve learned with others,” said Smith. “It’s a good feeling to know that others are learning from what I’m passing on. Everybody will gain from this, and hopefully we will be able to continue to save lives.”
Not only were the search and rescue swimmers able to brush up their skills and earn qualifications, the aircraft’s crew chief said he was able to put his skills to use.
DiCola said he must adapt to various situations in order to help his team safely accomplish their mission.
“It is my job to guide the pilots using distance estimation to help them land on the ground,” he said. “We work hard to be as fast and efficient as possible.”
Smith said it is integral for the swimmers to practice their search and rescue skills in various climates and places. Not only are they responsible for saving lives in the water, they could potentially respond to situations on land as well.
The crew went on a second search and rescue flight later that day, where they practiced similar techniques over land while rescue swimmers and the corpsman rappelled from the aircraft. The three rescue swimmers were then employed in the water while a Coast Guard cutter assisted with the search and rescue training.
“The more exposure swimmers have, the more comfortable we will be when performing different missions,” Smith said.
DiCola attributed the success of the training to teamwork.
“Everything went perfectly today because we all worked together.”