DMAFB rescuers return home after saving two Chinese sailors - Tucson News Now

DMAFB rescuers return home after saving two Chinese sailors

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

We're learning more about a long-distance ocean rescue operation involving airmen and aircraft from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

Most of the D-M airmen arrived home Monday night and Tuesday.

We're hearing from them first hand about their experience.

It's one of those situations where a lot of people, aircraft and equipment had to get someplace in a hurry.

Lives were at stake.

D-M says this complicated mission was put together in a matter of hours after the call for help went out on Friday.

D-M personnel and aircraft, with the help of aircraft and crews from the Arizona Air National Guard in Phoenix, were part of the five-day mission to rescue two injured Chinese sailors who were on a Venezuelan fishing boat that had found them floating in a life raft 1,100 miles off the Mexican coast.

The Chinese boat had sunk.

The two sailors had serious burns.

Five D-M pararescuemen, known as PJs, and a Combat Rescue Officer parachuted into the Pacific Ocean and used two inflatable boats to reach the Venezuelan boat.

People on that boat spoke at least three different languages.

English and Spanish were not very difficult to manage.

However, none of the rescuers spoke Chinese.

That was a challenge helping the critically burned sailors but, in the end, it didn't matter.

"There were two words that they could say in English, and it was 'Thank you.' And they said it over and over and over. And their facial expressions. They kept giving us thumbs-up and okays. So that was one of the things we used to communicate with them,"says 1st Lt. Ben Schmidt, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Combat Rescue Officer.  "Especially if they were in pain, we would do certain facial expressions, certain hand gestures. They would let us know that they were in pain and we would hit them with some drugs to alleviate that."

Schmidt was one of the six men who parachuted into the ocean to reach the injured men.

Airplanes and helicopters had to be refueled in the air to reach the men in time.

"We knew that making sure they got stabilized and the PJs being onboard to be there as highly skilled medical care to stabilize them--that's time-critical. So we didn't have the time to stop and just get gas," says Major Nelson Bennett, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base HC130J Aircraft Commander.

The rescuers say these are the same skills used to rescue American military personnel in combat situations.

"Things that we're doing nowadays for our combat mission we have to have the ability to go long distances over, even enemy or denied, territory in order to recover isolated personnel. So this mission, it really did capitalize upon a lot of the skills that we have. So the ability to fly long distances, fly for long times, be able to air refuel, the ability to capitalize upon things like being able to parachute in," says Lt. Col. Andy Smith, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base 55th Rescue Squadron Commander.

"Yes, Ma'am. I feel great. Like I said, it's great to take a complicated plan, put it together with so many talented people and then have it go so smoothly. And at the same time, the main objective is make sure people that were hurt got the care they needed," Bennett says.

"This is one of the things that makes Air Force rescue so unique, is the fact that we have this capability to be so agile," Smith says.

The injured Chinese sailors are recovering in San Diego.

There were 11 Chinese sailors in the life raft.

Two had died.

Six others are believed missing.

The U. S. Air Force rescue personnel are known as the Guardian Angels.

The Air Force rescue motto is "That Others May Live."

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