News: Marines rescue downed aviators amid Operation Damayan
Story by 1st Lt. Luke Kuper
MANILA, Republic of the Philippines – Marines with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 assisted in rescue efforts of two pilots involved in a civilian helicopter crash Nov. 24 over Manila Bay.
A KC-130J Super Hercules assigned to the squadron was returning to Villamor Air Base from Tacloban after delivering relief supplies in support of Operation Damayan, the U.S. military response to Typhoon Haiyan.
Maj. Jason Kauffman, a pilot with the squadron, heard a mayday call come through his radio approximately 18 nautical miles northwest of North Harbor.
“We were inbound to approach into Manila … we heard a mayday call from a helicopter that just crashed into Manila Bay,” said Kauffman. “We set up in orbit, we got eyes on the survivors, there were two of them in the water.”
The crew immediately prepared to deploy a life raft.
“The four crew members in the back got the raft ready to go and cleared all the loose equipment away from the door,” said Sgt. Chris Weins a crew member with the squadron. “On the aircraft commander’s call, we threw the raft out, and it deployed as it was supposed to about 300 feet away from the (survivors).”
The Marines' quick response ensured the pilots did not remain in open water long.
“A local fisherman responded 20-30 minutes later,” said Kauffman. “They came up alongside the raft we kicked out and loaded the two helicopter pilots into the fishing boat.”
Representatives with the U.S. Agency for International Development were passengers in the KC-130J, returning from Tacloban to help with relief efforts.
“(Operation Damayan) has been a textbook example, it’s a model, of what we can do when we all work together,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a USAID representative and passenger aboard the Super Hercules. “It’s always nice to learn from what’s gone right.”
Also aboard the aircraft were congressmen Trent Franks (Ariz.), Chris Smith (N.J.), and Al Green (TX), who traveled to the Philippines to observe the relief and recovery efforts of the U.S. military.
“In an absolutely amazing example of military precision, (the crew) dropped a life raft to where the people could swim to it,” said Franks. “It seems like (Kauffman’s) call sign ‘Rescue’ was emphasized again. I believe that the military (members) of the U.S. are the most noble figures in human society.”
The cause of the helicopter crash is under investigation.