PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, Detachment 3, rescued four people from a sinking fishing vessel Aug. 4-5, about 126 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii.
Two ships of the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) Expeditionary Strike Group, the amphibious assault ship Peleliu and the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73), changed course Aug. 4 to sail 105 nautical miles to assist the 110-ft. Pacific Laurel, which was heavily damaged and taking on water.
Meanwhile, an MH-60B Seahawk helicopter assigned to HSC-21 flew ahead to serve as search and rescue unit (SRU). After a 45-minute flight to the vessel, the helicopter crew lowered a radio to the crew to allow communications with the assisting units. The aircraft's hoist jammed, requiring a second helicopter to pick up two of Pacific Laurel's crew members.
At 11:47 p.m., the crew of the second HSC-21 helicopter hoisted two people up to their aircraft and flew them back to Peleliu. The next morning, at 8:35 a.m., another HSC-21 helicopter crew rescued two of the three remaining crew members from the vessel. The ship's master decided to stay aboard in an attempt to keep it afloat.
"It was gratifying to see that the crew members in distress were able to make it to safety," said detachment officer-in-charge Lt. Cmdr. Tres DeHay, an HSC-21 pilot who flew during the rescue. "I'm just glad that the entire detachment came together as a team. From the maintenance side of the house making sure the aircraft was ready, to all the other pilots who weren't flying going up to the bridge, everybody was doing their jobs like clockwork as professionals and getting on the scene professionally and calmly. That's what made it successful."
DeHay said he's "extremely proud" of his crew.
"It was pretty intense," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 3rd Class (AW/NAC) William Rush, a crew chief who assisted in the rescue of the last two passengers. "We didn't do it at night like the other guys, but it was still challenging, with a lot of obstacles."
Those obstacles included hovering about 70 feet over a small, rocking boat in water with six- to eight-foot waves and strong wind.
"They were very thankful," said DeHay, who spoke to the passengers after they arrived on Peleliu. "As soon as they saw the...helicopters overhead, they just couldn't be more tickled. It kind of gave them a little bit more freedom to relax and refocus on trying to dewater the whole ship."
A Coast Guard C-130 cargo plane provided de-watering pumps to Pacific Laurel while serving as on-scene commander until Peleliu arrived to assist in the rescue. With the four rescued passengers aboard Peleliu, the warship sailed for Pearl Harbor, leaving Pacific Laurel and her master with the Hawaii-based U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ahi (WPB 87364).
When they received the Coast Guard alert, Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group was sailing toward Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on their way home from a six-month deployment in support of the global war on terrorism.
Port Royal is homeported in Hawaii with the frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57). The rest of the strike group, Peleliu, the amphibious transport dock USS Ogden (LPD 5), and the amphibious dock ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) are based in San Diego and are completing a Tiger Cruise on their way back to southern California.
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