USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- A crew from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 47 assisted a vessel in distress in the South China Sea April 15.
The squadron, known as the “Saberhawks,” were conducting routine flight operations at the time.
“We were flying around checking out all the surface contacts near the battle group,” said Lt. j.g. James Bowen, one of the two pilots aboard the SH-60B Seahawk helicopter when the vessel was spotted. “We were flying past and it just looked like an old fishing vessel.”
However, the crew noticed the fishermen on deck were trying to signal them, so the crew decided to turn around and make another pass to check it out.
“This time there were more people on deck, and they were signaling us to come closer,” said Bowen.
“There were at least 10 people on deck waving both their arms,” said Aviation Warfare Specialist 2nd Class (AW) Zachary J. Dotson, a sensor operator aboard the helicopter. “The vessel was dead in the water with a smaller boat tethered to it with a 50-yard line. I held up a bottle of water, and we got a noticeable reaction.”
The crew then hovered the helicopter near the 100-foot-long vessel, which was of unknown nationality, and threw out a bottle of water.
“About five fishermen jumped into the water to get it, and we knew there was a problem on board,” said Dotson.
The fishing vessel appeared to be very primitive, and the helicopter crew doubted they would have radio equipment aboard, but they attempted to raise them anyway.
“We didn’t get any response whatsoever,” said Bowen. “At this point we called USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) to coordinate efforts and request support.”
The crew arranged to fly to USS Russell (DDG 59), which was nearby, and pick up some supplies they could deliver to the vessel.
“We flew back and dropped the food and water to them,” said Bowen. “We stayed in a hover and watched as they opened the package, and they seemed very ecstatic.”
The HSL-47 crew tried to contact other vessels in the area that might have been able to assist, but could not get any response. As a result, Russell moved into the area to monitor the vessel and further support the humanitarian effort if necessary.
“This kind of event shows the versatility we have - to shift from a military to a humanitarian mission at a moment’s notice,” said Cmdr. Shawn P. Malone, HSL-47’s executive officer, and the other pilot aboard the helicopter. “It also shows the kind of cooperation we bring to the region. We are more than a show of military power…we are here to assist when needed.”
Versatility and cooperation was also demonstrated by helicopter crew itself, as it included a member from Helicopter Anti Submarine Squadron (HSL) 2, the “Golden Falcons.”
“I flew with them as a [search-and-rescue] swimmer,” said Aviation Warfare Specialist 2nd Class (AW) Zack D. Webb. “If [the vessel] was going down, I would have went in and performed rescues. If [anyone] was hurt, I would have went down, assessed the situation and got them into the bird.”
Both crewmen aboard the helicopter had participated in the tsunami relief and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005, and their experience was critical to the success of this mission.
“They were guiding the helicopter into position so we could drop the food and water, and communicating with the vessel’s crew members to see what they needed,” said Malone. “They performed very well.”
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