MEDITERANNEAN SEA – The French navy, Italian Coast Guard, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-CNA) Personnel Recovery team and aircrewmen assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 67, assisted in the rescue of approximately 40 people adrift in a 15-meter inflatable boat in the Mediterranean Sea, 35 miles north of the Libyan coast, March 27.
In conjunction with Italian and French navy, the CNE-CNA personnel recovery team responded to the request for support to help locate and assist the distressed vessel.
“A French ship initially spotted the craft off the coast of Libya and contacted the maritime rescue coordination center in Rome,” said Bruce Townsend, personnel recovery team member. “Because of our relationship with the Italians and international agreements our expertise is often called upon to help save lives when distress calls are heard and response time is critical.”
John Carey, Personnel Recovery team leader, and several members of his staff, helped coordinate the response for nearby ships to get support to the craft.
“We had a last known position of the craft. From there, we were able to begin working the problem,” said Chief Operations Specialist Shontae Scott. “With the time of the last known position and the speed of the craft, we then figured out where the craft could be and where to start looking.”
Once the search area was determined, the Personnel Recovery staff gave coordinates to CTF-67, which launched a P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to search the area and locate the craft.
“This was truly an all-hands evolution and we were proud to be part of the rescue efforts,” said Lt. Chris Conway, patrol plane commander assigned to Patrol Squadron 4, based in Hawaii, operating from Sigonella, Sicily. “This event demonstrates the responsiveness and agility of the P-3C and the whole organization.”
The P-3 crew helped coordinate with an Italian tugboat to embark the people and bring them safely ashore.
“While it’s a skill set we hope we don’t have to use, our training paid off and all our transitions ran as smooth as clockwork,” said Gary Westrup, Personnel Recovery team member. “The reason we have the personnel recovery process in place is for U.S. service members but it’s also a huge added benefit in a coalition environment.”
Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, praised the Sailors and civilians for a quick and professional job.
"Well done to our aircrews, and well done to our staff for coordinating with several different organizations and putting this all together,” said Vice Adm. Pandolfe. “You provided assistance to people adrift at sea who otherwise would have been in a very difficult situation."
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts a full range of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation missions in concert with coalition, joint, interagency, and other parties in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa.