Tennessee Airmen assist in Bermuda rescue of burn victims

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Daniel Gagnon
  • 134 Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
An aircrew with the 151st Air Refueling Squadron here, assisted the rescue of two critical burn victims about 500 miles southeast of Bermuda by conducting in-flight refueling to another Air Force aircraft June 21.  

What was scheduled to be a local training mission for the Tennessee Airmen was re-tasked to support an HC-130J aircraft over the North Atlantic Ocean that had been dispatched to aid the victims of an explosion aboard a Taiwanese fishing vessel earlier that day.

Although a nearby cargo ship, K. Coral, rescued 19 survivors, two survivors were critically burned on 90 percent of their bodies and needed immediate medical care, according to a Coast Guard flight surgeon. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) developed a plan to use a HC-130J Combat King II from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., to airdrop pararescuemen (PJs) equipped with supplies and zodiac boats in an effort to provide medical care to the burn patients on board the K. Coral.

Without an air refueling, the HC-130J would need to proceed all the way to Bermuda, stop for fuel, and then proceed to the drop zone. Time was critical for the two burn victims and the air refueling would save a significant amount of time.

The deputy director of global operations at the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) found a scheduled KC-135 training sortie at McGhee Tyson ANG base that could assist in the rescue operation.  Lt. Col. Martin Hartley, 151st ARS commander, was contacted. He agreed to re-task the sortie from an aircrew evaluation to the real-world mission.

"Our mission is to project global reach by providing vital air refueling and airlift capability for rapid deployment," said Hartley. "Shifting from a training mission to support a real-world mission was an easy decision to make because it's something our aircrews train for and I'm very proud of our Wing.  This was a total team effort that involved some critical coordination across our operations, maintenance and mission support groups with very little advance notice." 

The Tennessee tanker and the HC-130J rendezvoused off the East Coast of the United States about 200 miles south of Bermuda. The rendezvous coordination and execution was seamless, and the required fuel was delivered 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.  The HC-130J crew successfully completed the PJ drop nearly two hours later and the injured sailors received the required medical care they desperately needed.

 The 134th ARW continues to be a great value today and in the near future.  

"Time and again our members answer the call for service with little to no advance notice and deliver in true Volunteer fashion," said Hartley.

(Information in this article was taken from a written account by those familiar with the mission and verified by leadership with the 134th Operations Group.)