While the nation is battling with COVID-19 naval aviators assigned to Airborne Command & Control Squadron (VAW) 124 aboard Naval Station Norfolk were assisting the U.S. Coast Guard to respond to a potential mariner in distress in the waters off the Atlantic Ocean, June 24.
The U.S. Coast Guard Sector, located in Hampton Roads, has a large geographical territory to cover, and with the Fourth of July approaching in a few days, having other Department of Defense assets to rely upon makes all the difference.
On Wednesday, June 24 as a five-person crew aboard VAW-124’s E-2C Hawkeye were manning the skies above Hampton Roads they heard a potential Search and Rescue (SAR) distress call announced on the Urgent Marine Information Broadcast and took action.
“Search and rescue is a contingency we prepare for because you never know when we will have an opportunity to assist a ship or an aircraft in distress,” said Cmdr. Matt Olson, VAW-124 commanding officer.
For Olson, he believes the quick reaction of Hawkeye crew and the U.S. Coast Guard is evidence that the two branches form a great team.
“The crew was monitoring channel 16 when they heard the distress call. They immediately used the aircraft’s sensors to look for the ship in distress and set-up a search pattern,” said Olson. “I’m proud of the work the crew did. This event provides further evidence that when it comes to assisting mariners in distress, the Navy and the Coast Guard work well together.”
When the distress call was heard over VHF Channel 16 mariners at sea and in the this case in the air from the Hawkeye crew responded said Capt. Samson C. Stevens, U.S. Coast Guard, Commander, Sector Virginia who added it was all hands on deck response.
“We received a report of a vessel taking on water near Smith Island off the Virginia Peninsula, and Lt. Burke and crew responded to our Urgent Marine Information Broadcast, in addition to CG HH-60, small boat, and local partner boats,” said Stevens.
“Burke’s crew identified a capsized vessel with two persons in the water, helping us to quickly vector assets to the scene and confirm the nature of distress,” said Stevens. “The VAW platform made a big difference in prioritizing our responses.”
One of the naval aviators who had lead on locating the stranded vessel was VAW-124’s Lt. Casey Burke.
“It was nice to be able to utilize my training in order to assist the Coast Guard with their Search and Rescue response,” said Burke.
Other aviators that assisted with this Search and Rescue event included Lt. Simon Hallberg, Lt. Steve Dine, Lt. Jackson Jones, and Lt. Eric Triassi.
Cmdr. Jonathan Faraco, VAW-124 executive officer emphasized the value of manning, training, and equipping our forces.
“In ninety-nine out of one hundred flights, a Hawkeye crew will not participate in a search and rescue. We train to and brief our search and rescue procedures in the event that our aircrew come across a ship or an aircraft in distress,” said Faraco, “This event is evidence that our training is working, our aircrew were ready, and they knew how to respond quickly to an emergent request for assistance from a fellow mariner at sea.”
Faraco added that the Hawkeye’s long-range sensors, robust communications suite, and extensive on station time makes the E-2C an ideal airborne asset to assist the U.S. Coast Guard in these types of Search and Rescue events.
“We have a lot of respect for our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Coast Guard, and are proud to partner with them to help a fellow mariner in distress,” said Faraco.
Capt. Matthew Duffy, Commander, Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing reflected on the training that led to the search and rescue event, as well as the platform.
“The beauty of the E-2 is its versatility that this platform offers from assisting in command and control of an ever-evolving situation; it truly is an art to employ this aircraft,” said Duffy. “I’m proud of the squadron’s ongoing training and preparation of our aircrew.”