SIGONELLA, Sicily (NNS) -- Members of Patrol Squadron (VP) 26 currently deployed to Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella aided in the search and rescue of about 40 people in the Mediterranean April 9.
The black rubber boat, which was said to be packed full of refugees, began taking on water about 65 miles south of the island of Malta. A person aboard the boat with a cell phone called in for assistance and was in communication with the Rescue Coordination Center in Malta.
A VP-26 P-3C Orion Search and Rescue (SAR) Ready crew received the call at 1:45 a.m. April 9 about the situation and took off at 5:30 a.m. An ATL3 Atlantique assigned to the Italian Air Force 41st Stormo also received the call to aid in the search and rescue.
"Someone from the boat used their cell phone and frequently would call the rescue coordination center on Malta to relay information to us and to the Italian plane," said. Lt. Cmdr. Chip Barnes, mission commander. "We took off and split up the area with the Italian aircraft."
At about eight and a half hours into the flight, VP-26 Combat Air Crew 4, the "Plug Uglies," spotted the boat adrift in the Med. "When we found them they were bailing water," said Barnes. "From then on, we were just talking to the rescue center, trying to vector in a Maltese Coast Guard boat to find them."
"They were very happy when they saw us," said Lt. Colby Morgan, plane commander. "They were waving their arms. They were very packed into that little boat."
The rescue boat was 45 minutes away at this point, and the P-3 was getting low on fuel. "We had one more fly-by left, so we decided, based on the overloaded condition of the boat and the fact they were bailing water, to drop the search-and-rescue kit," said Barnes. The search-and-rescue kit consists of two life rafts and a survival kit. This was the first time in a few years a VP-26 crew has dropped a kit such as this.
The boat crew's initial situation was unclear. "We don't know if maybe they were in another boat that sank, but the boat they were in ran out of gas," said Morgan.
The members aboard were taken to safety by the Maltese Coast Guard. "The rescue center called on our way back and said their rescue craft had picked them up," said Lt. Jason Romero, a pilot aboard. "[The Rescue Coordination Center] thanked us and wished us a happy Easter."
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