GULF OF OMAN, Aboard USS Bunker Hill (NNS) -- The guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) responded to a distress call from the motor vessel Apollo Sun, a Japanese-owned, Panamanian-flagged tanker steaming from Chiba, Japan to Kwohr Fahkan, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 31.
The master of Apollo Sun radioed Bunker Hill and informed them that one of the crew members of Apollo Sun was unconscious and suffering from a life threatening illness.
Bunker Hill immediately set a course to rendezvous with Apollo Sun, and prepped its SH-60B Seahawk helicopter for launch.
"It happened pretty quickly. One second I was on the radio with the master, the next we were setting flight quarters and going full speed toward the ship," said Ens. Patrick Gatchell, the officer of the deck at the time of the event.
As Bunker Hill moved closer to Apollo Sun's position, Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Paul McFadden provided medical advice via bridge-to-bridge radio, then prepared to fly as a medical air crewman.
Minutes later, Bunker Hill's helicopter, Red Stinger 106, took off toward the tanker. The helicopter crew from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 49, Det. 2, consisted of Lt. Matthew Somerville, Lt. j.g. John Mikols, Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 3rd Class David Stewart and McFadden.
As they approached the large tanker, the air crew coordinated via radio with Apollo Sun to hoist the ill mariner off the deck.
Somerville, the aircraft's commander, said that the difficult hover maneuver "worked well, given our experience in Sumatra flying in relief supplies to tight landing zones. While the helo pad was tight and unfamiliar, we were confident of our crew coordination skills," he added.
The 55-year-old Japanese mariner was brought to the small flight pad on Apollo Sun and secured into the rescue litter by Apollo Sun crew members. Red Stinger 106 then hoisted up the litter, recovered the afflicted mariner, and proceeded to Seeb International Airport, near Muscat, Oman. A waiting ambulance then took the mariner to the nearest medical facility.
"We accomplished a mission we were never trained to do, and it will be one of the most rewarding flights we'll have," said Mikols, the co-pilot of Red Stinger 106 and also a participant in the Sumatran tsunami relief effort.
The commanding officer of Bunker Hill, Capt. Richard W. Durham, believed the crew handled the situation just as they had been trained to do.
"You always try to prepare for any eventuality, and be ready to respond at very short notice," said Durham. "The watch teams, flight deck crew, medical team, and air crew all worked quickly and efficiently to get the proper resources into place."
Bunker Hull deployed Dec. 6 from its homeport of San Diego. The guided-missile cruiser is part of Commander, Task Force (CTF) 150, which is the coalition maritime task force conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO). MSO around the Horn of Africa, the North Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman is designed to detect, disrupt, and deter international terrorist organizations from using the maritime environment and threatening security and stability in the region.
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