Beating the Storm
USS San Diego Sailors Save Scientists
It was an early August morning when Sailors from the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22) got the call. Three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists needed to be evacuated from Hermes Atoll, a small island chain in the Pacific Ocean.
With wind and seawater whipping their faces, the crew aboard the RHIBs sped away from USS San Diego toward the Pearl and Hermes Atoll to evacuate the scientists.
The NOAA personnel, operating out of Honolulu, were in the middle of conducting a four-month study and survey of the Hawaiian Monk Seal population and mating habits when the excursion was cut short due to the incoming tropical storms.
Days prior, the NOAA watch floor in Hawaii warned the researchers of the incoming storm and advised them to begin preparations for heavy weather. As they began to tie down and secure their gear, one storm quickly transformed into three and NOAA realized that it would be more than their personnel could handle.
"We received a rescue request with concerns about (the NOAA team's) safety with the incoming storms," said Lt. Martin Pendleton, San Diego's assistant operations officer. "San Diego was the best option to get these personnel off the island quickly and safely."
The two small boats containing a Navy and Marine Corps recovery team transited the challenging seas for six nautical miles before reaching the opening to the island chain. There the team rendezvoused with a five-meter RHIB operated by John Brack and Jessica Farrer, NOAA scientists, who guided the recovery team through the coral reefs to a tiny islet where the other member of the research team was standing by with the team's gear. At only 12 feet above sea level at the highest point, the small islet was in danger of being swamped by the hurricane storm surge.
"The seas were at the edge of safe operating limits for small boat operations," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Andrew Oliveri, a small boat operator. "It was the most challenging operation that any one aboard had experienced, but we pulled together as a team."
Once all the researchers and gear were loaded, the RHIBs transited safely back to the ship.
"This was a great opportunity to showcase our planning capabilities and how we respond to a crisis," said Pendleton. "No rescue mission is the same but we responded quickly and were able to rescue the NOAA personnel."
When the three NOAA personnel arrived on San Diego they were immediately taken to medical to be examined. There they received dry clothing, a place to shower, and a meal.
"To get rescued by the Navy is definitely a once in a lifetime event," said Jessica Farrer, a NOAA biological research technician. "It was an awesome but different experience and my team is glad San Diego was there."
The researchers were provided air transport to Midway Island where they received proper shelter and if further evacuations were needed, could be safely evacuated.
"This is what the Navy and Marine Corps team is all about," said Capt. John Menoni, commanding officer of San Diego. "Helping others in need and being ready when called upon. The San Diego team has shown our ability to accomplish anything and work together to get the job done."