In a concerted effort throughout on July 7 and into the early hours of July 8, 2017, approximately 80 Citizen Airmen and four aircraft from the 920th Rescue Wing successfully rescued two German citizens whose yacht had caught fire approximately 500 nautical miles off the east coast of southern Florida.
At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventh District in Miami, the 920th RQW was alerted by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to assist in the long-range search and rescue. Aircraft maintainers launched an HC-130P/N “King” fixed-wing combat rescue aircraft piloted by eight Airmen launched at approximately 2:30 p.m. transporting six GA Airmen who specialize in all types of rescue. It was discovered during the planning stages that only one of the German victims spoke English, but was badly burned, therefore Master Sgt. Isabelle Kleirgraham, 920th RQW Equal Opportunity noncommissioned officer, was tasked to join the team due to her ability to speak fluent German.
The team arrived on scene two hours later and orbited overhead while King Ops (39th Rescue Squadron) at Patrick communicated with the nearby “Nord Nightingale” which was about two miles away. Finally, five pararescuem plunged into the Ocean.
The tanker motored a small boat toward the yacht, which allowed the pararescuers to hoist the 48-year-old and 66-year-old father-son duo onboard while several of the other Rescue Airmen zoomed over to pick up the parabundles of medical equipment that splashed down just after them. Around the same time the HC-130 arrived on scene, two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters departed Patrick with full tanks of gas to retrieve everyone and transport the victims to Orlando Regional Medical Center.
As an Air Force Pave Hawk can fly approximately 500 miles on one tank of gas, the approximate distance to the scene, the helos met up with the HC-130 on its return to Patrick for aerial refueling. About an hour later, an additional HC-130 took off from Patrick to serve as fuel reserve for the helicopter’s return trip. The pararescuemen treated and stabilized the patients, then transloaded them to the “Nord Nightingale” to be picked up by the inbound helicopter. At approximately 8:20 p.m., the two Pave Hawk crews hoisted and recovered all seven from the ship and journeyed back to Central Florida where they landed on an Orlando High School football field at 1:30 a.m. and handed off the patients to the Orlando Fire Department to get the patients to their final destination, the Orlando regional medical center.