B-1 Crew Recsue By: Dean Abbott Posted: January 4 2002
Subject: Account of B-1 Crash/Rescue in the Indian Ocean.
A good read from the rescurer's point of view. As everyone knows, we had a busy night. No matter what you hear on the news, this is the story:
We watched on radar and talked on radio to this B-1 that left Diego Garcia (DG) around 2100 hours last night December 19). At about 100nm out, they called in an emergency. One of their engines was out and they couldn't get it going again. They turned around and started heading back, stating that they were okay and that they would get back to DG and fly around the island a little to burn off extra, then land. They didn't make it back.
Shortly after the u-turn, they disappeared from our scopes without a trace. It was close to 2200 when this went down and the Captain got on the announcing system to tell us what happened. “We head straight for their last position at over 30mph. On our way there, we started preparing for the worst”.
We manned up our two RHIBs (rigid hulled inflatable boats) with a whole bunch of guys and gear. We had night vision gear, blankets, first aid, stretchers, Gatorade (they were pretty happy about the Gatorade) and a whole bunch of other stuff. Each boat had a corpsman (for medical help), signalman (in case the radios died), engineer (to fix the boat), officer (to be in charge), coxswain (he drives the RHIB), a seaman (to do anything the coxswain says), and a rescue swimmer to bring the pilots out of the water.
Onboard the ship, they were preparing stretchers and stretcher bearers. All sorts of lookouts were being manned. It was a pretty hectic transit. So the CO got on the announcing system again, and told us what he knew.
"A B-1 went down. They have a crew of four. We are talking to one of the pilots on his rescue radio. He is in his life raft and doing okay. He can hear voices around him. Where they are is a shallow area that the ship can't get to. We are going to stop about 5 - 10 miles away and send the RHIBs down the bearing to the pilots."
Just when we stop and begin to put the RHIBs in the water, he gets on again. "Two pilots are now together and in their rafts and doing okay. They can hear voices around them still."
So I'm now thinking that all four are accounted for and alive and talking. This is good. We dropped the RHIBs into the water. Mine went in second. Then, it didn't start... but that's what the engineer is for. It only took a few minutes to discover a loose cable on the battery. We got going a mile or two behind the other RHIB. On our way out, we could smell all of the jet fuel. All I was thinking was that I hope I don't have to swim in it. After about seven miles, the other RHIB said that they had found the two that were talking on the radio.
We slowed down a bit and begin close in on their location.
We were looking all around. So were the planes. There were three planes all doing low flying runs this way and that with their landing lights on. It was kind of wild.
As I watched the water that one was lighting up I saw a flash. As the plane flew by and the area darkened, it was easy to see a strobe light not too far from us. We jammed straight for it. When we got closer and slowed down, we saw that it was indeed a pilot. He said that he was okay, so we just leaned over and pulled him in.
The ejection process is a pretty violent evolution. He had “rope burns” on his arm and neck and face from various straps and stuff pulling tight when the chute opened. He was pretty stiff and sore, too. Also, he didn't have his raft. It was torn away from him at some point before he got to the water.
At this point we were told to transfer our guy to the other RHIB with the two guys in it. Then, they were going to take them back and we would stay and look for the fourth. As we were about to start over to meet the other RHIB, we saw a flare. All three pilots said, don't worry about us, lets go get our buddy. So, both boats headed straight for him.
We got there about the same time as the other one. We decided that we'd pick him up to even out the loads in the RHIB. I actually got to get into the water for this one. The guy was in his raft and we didn't want to get too close because we might foul our prop on his parachute or sea anchor. I jumped in and swam up to him. "Good evening, my name is Jim and I'll be your Rescue Swimmer for the evening." It got me a smile and a chuckle - this guy was okay, too.
He asked me what the drill was to get him out of the raft and into the RHIB. I told him that he must roll out and I’d give him my floatation device. Roger that. He rolled out and grabbed the SAR-1 (floatation device), I grabbed him, and we kicked over to the boat. They lifted him into the RHIB and we were on our way. Mission complete, job well done.
On the way back, they told us what happened. Once their engine failed, other systems started dropping offline, too. They were down to one generator when the last straw came. The attitude (not altitude) indicator malfunctioned. Now they couldn't tell if they were flying level or not.
And when they did figure it out, they were flying upside down and heading for the water. At night with calm seas and the stars reflecting on the water, it looked like sky all around. So they all ejected at over 15 000ft. Kind of a wild story...
Anyhow, the CO gave us a holiday routine today (December 20), so I am going back to bed.