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203 ARS Tanker Locates Missing Mariners

August 5, 2020

From the Anderson AFB Facebook page

Guardsmen from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG) along with members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pennsylvania National Guard, deployed here, were the first to locate three missing mariners during a search and rescue mission in the Federated States of Micronesia southwest of Guam.

On July 29, three mariners aboard a 23-foot white and blue skiff departed Puluwat Atoll intending to travel approximately 21 nautical miles to Pulap, Chuuk. However, they never made it to their destination and were reported missing.

“Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received notification of an overdue skiff last seen in the vicinity of Chuuk and requested our assistance,” said Air Force Maj. Shaun McRoberts, 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations. “Once notified, we began immediately working a plan to launch crews to locate the missing vessel.”

Hawaii Air National Guardsmen Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, Maj. Byron Kamikawa, Tech. Sgt. Shane Williams along with Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen Tech. Sgt. Rodney Joseph and Senior Airman Jeremy Williams took off from Andersen AFB in their KC-135 Stratotanker destined to locate the missing vessel.

After almost three hours into their mission and flying at about 1,500 feet, the crew located the mariners on the tiny island of Pikelot, Yap.

“We were toward the end of our search pattern,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot. “We turned to avoid some rain showers and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decide to check it out and that’s when we saw SOS and a boat right next to it on the beach. From there we called in the Australian Navy because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island.”

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra (L02) was also in the region and agreed to divert and provide search sorties with embarked helicopters while the FSS Independence departed from Yap to assist.

A helicopter crew from HMAS Canberra delivered supplies to the stranded mariners while a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii airdropped a radio and message block informing them the FSS Independence was en-route to rescue and return them home.

“Partnerships” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Christopher Chase, Coast Guard Sector Guam, commander. “This is what made this search and rescue case successful. Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families.”

At 12 a.m., August 3 (HST), the Independence arrived on scene, launched a small boat crew and rescued the mariners.

Great job by these Air Guardmembers!

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