News: SAR air crew: Keeping a watchful eye in the air
Story by Lance Cpl. Laura Gauna
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. - Air crew chiefs with Search and Rescue protect the lives of pilots, passengers and their fellow crew members while conducting aircraft maintenance before, during and after flights.
SAR crew chiefs at MCAS Yuma can pilot an aircraft, act as aerial observers and can maintain an aircraft while conducting their search and rescue duties. They are also in charge of preparing the aircraft and overseeing its functions through in-flight diagnostics while troubleshooting the aircraft.
“We are the eyes and ears for the pilot,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Thomasson, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron HH-1N crew chief. “Crew chiefs have the most situational awareness of everything happening around the aircraft. It allows pilots to operate more efficiently with us in the back directing them in terms of approach, landing and moving the aircraft in tight areas. If there is an issue we will fix it and determine whether we can fly home or not.”
SAR crews are four-men units including a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and corpsman. Each trains everyday and conducts possible scenarios to maintain high proficiency. They train for high-altitude missions, technical rescues, rappelling down a mountain with medical, and can support maritime agencies, as well as several other civilian organizations.
Considering SAR is thought of as a mobile ambulance in the air, crew chiefs working in SAR may also be trained in first aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation to help the corpsman fulfill his duties. They are also certified to suppress wild fires.
“Anything you train for is not what is going to happen in a real situation,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Nooney, H and HS hospital corpsman. “You train for what you think will happen, but it will never be the same. We know what needs to be done, and we get it done because of the training we’ve received and the experience we have with aviation-related mishaps.”
“This is a very mentally and physically demanding job,” added Thomasson, a 22-year-old native of Littleton, Colo. “As crew chiefs, we are not only maintainers but testers, navigators, operators and more. We hold more in our briefcase than most, so you want to be mentally prepared to handle all these things at once. A lot of stuff you do is in a very stressful situation, but with all our training, we are able to maintain our bearing. We are always prepared.”
Before they are ready for the fleet, crew chiefs have to go through several months of training and preparation. They attend the Naval Air Crew Candidate School, which includes a rigorous swim regiment school that teaches advanced skills such as a sunken helicopter escape or tower jump.
Soon after, they attend an aircraft maintenance school followed by the crew member training school where they learn the crew chief responsibilities while in the air to earn their wings. Most crew chiefs also have the opportunity to go through the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape course, or S.E.R.E.
Finally, the Marines are sent to their duty station, where they will hone their skills and put their training to good work.
“By the time they are finished with training and qualifications, I’m 100 percent comfortable with any single one of the crew chiefs we have here, for any rescue,” said Nooney. “They are the main source for that flight. The pilot’s life, the patient’s life and mine are in their hands and that’s something I am totally okay with because I trust them. We train together, have a bond and always execute what needs to be executed. It comes down to trust and a camaraderie that you build. Crew chiefs really own the aircraft.”