HomeNewsArticle Display

Refueling Wing Saves the Day

The 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, Phoenix, launched a KC-135 Stratotanker on short notice, in support of a rescue mission of two critically injured sailors aboard a Venezuelan fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. Along with the 161 ARW, the 563rd Rescue Group deployed two Combat King II aircraft, three HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters and ten Guardian Angel Personnel, with 38 Airmen from the 48th, 79th and 55th Rescue Squadrons . The tanker from the 161 ARW enabled the Combat King II and Guardian Angel Teams to proceed directly to the vessel in order to provide lifesaving care. Aircrew from the 161 ARW included: (from left to right) Senior Airman Blake French, Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Madorski, Capt. Britton Bates, Maj. Erik Wichmann, 1st Lt. Julie Keeney and Master Sgt. Dennis Abraham. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff/Released)

The 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, Phoenix, launched a KC-135 Stratotanker on short notice, in support of a rescue mission of two critically injured sailors aboard a Venezuelan fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. Along with the 161 ARW, the 563rd Rescue Group deployed two Combat King II aircraft, three HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters and ten Guardian Angel Personnel, with 38 Airmen from the 48th, 79th and 55th Rescue Squadrons . The tanker from the 161 ARW enabled the Combat King II and Guardian Angel Teams to proceed directly to the vessel in order to provide lifesaving care. Aircrew from the 161 ARW included: (from left to right) Senior Airman Blake French, Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Madorski, Capt. Britton Bates, Maj. Erik Wichmann, 1st Lt. Julie Keeney and Master Sgt. Dennis Abraham. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff/Released)

PHOENIX SKY HARBOR AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE -- Airmen from the 161st Air Refueling Wing played an integral part in refueling multiple aircraft for a rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean.

Airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base parachuted into the water Saturday to save two critically injured Chinese sailors whose boat sunk off the coast of Mexico. The first responders to the scene were a Venezuelan fishing boat. The sailors were hoisted into HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters and transported to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

A seven-man crew from the 161st ARW immediately supported this highly complex rescue mission. "Within a matter of minutes we were ready to deploy in support of this rescue mission," said Master Sgt. Dennis Abraham, 161st Air Refueling Wing crew chief.

Flight planning plays an essential role with the coordination of fuel, altitude, duration, arrival time, and the exact objective area. The plans were constantly updating the rendezvous point, because the fishing boat was moving in the ocean.

"We received the notice through a phone call Friday night and we assembled an augmented crew, which gives us twenty-four hours of crew duty to respond to a real-world emergency," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Madorski, 161st Air Refueling Wing boom operator.

An augmented crew differentiates from a basic crew because of the longer hours that they are available to stay on station for any type of search and rescue mission. A basic crew is comprised of two pilots and one boom operator, whereas an augmented crew has three pilots, two boom operators and two crew chiefs.

"Even though we have never done this kind of mission, we train diligently to execute difficult missions all the time. We are always ready, always there," said 1st Lt. Julie Keeney, 161st Air Refueling Wing pilot. "During April Drill the Wing participated in a Generation Exercise, where we practiced a quick response, I think this allowed us enhanced our readiness to provide a quick response for real world events."

"The most impressive part to this rescue mission was the joint effort from the United States Air Force, the Arizona Air National Guard, and the other countries involved. We supported the rescue of injured Chinese sailors aboard a Venezuelan fishing vessel and I think that goes to show that we, the United States of America, are willing to deploy a rescue mission without hesitation to save anyone, anywhere, to include foreign nationals," said Maj. Erik Wichmann, 161st Air Refueling Wing instructor pilot.

"We did experience mechanical issues and they made repairs expeditiously so we could depart on time," said Capt. Britton Bates, 161st Air Refueling Wing pilot. The communication navigation/avionics shop, which is a part of maintenance diagnosed and replaced a faulty embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System unit. "On short notice the airmen rapidly changed out the entire unit with a sense of urgency knowing there was a real world situation. This is routine maintenance activity for them; however, their sense of urgency was heightened and within a matter of minutes they changed out our GPS and we were able to depart on time," said Bates.