Sailors assigned to the “Warlords” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 51 Detachment 3, currently attached to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) and conducting operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility, received a maritime distress, or PAN PAN call, from Coast Guard Sector Guam requesting assistance in locating a capsized catamaran with four missing persons off the coast of Guam, March 26.
The crew of the MH-60R helicopter, Warlord (WL) 11, that was flying when the distress call was received included Lt. Kristopher Appel, from Knoxville, Tennessee, Lt. Quoc Duong, from King George, Virginia, and Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Classes Baldwin Switzer, from Ocala, Florida, and Kaimana Rodriguez, from San Dimas, California. The crew had launched in support of Dewey’s Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) and received the Coast Guard’s call at 1:18 p.m. local time, requesting assistance in locating the four missing persons who were communicating via cellphone while floating in the open ocean.
“You always have to be prepared for the worst case possible,” said Switzer. “Luckily in this case it was a very straight forward search with the survivors being in contact with emergency personnel.”
Appel was the lead pilot and quickly divided up Search and Rescue (SAR) responsibilities among the crew after receiving the call. “Lt. Duong gathered information from Coast Guard Sector Guam and Guam Fire/Rescue on Maritime 16 and completed our appropriate checklists,” said Appel. “AWR2 Switzer and AWR2 Rodriguez went through their SAR checklist and prepped the cabin for rescue. I relayed information back to USS Dewey, spoke to Guam International tower to transit their airspace, and piloted the helicopter to the search area.”
WL11 proceeded to the vicinity of the capsized vessel and Guam Fire/Rescue informed the crew that the four survivors could see their helicopter. When WL11 began turning for the second leg of their search pattern, Switzer, with assistance from Rodriguez, spotted the survivors in the water.
“Once I had sight of all four of the survivors and saw that none of them were struggling to stay afloat, I was relieved,” said Switzer. “Next on my mind was getting the Guam Fire and Rescue boat to the survivors as quickly as possible.” The survivors had drifted about 1.5 nautical miles north of their capsized catamaran. Once on scene, WL11 orbited over the survivors and directed Guam Fire/Rescue to their location.
“The key to our success was our outstanding crew resource management,” said Appel. “I can’t express how proud I am of the professionalism and the efficiency my crew demonstrates when tasked with a high-stress mission change.”
The Guam Fire/Rescue boat arrived on location within ten minutes of HSM-51’s initial detection and pulled the survivors out of the water at 1:43 p.m. local time. “Seeing all the survivors onboard the rescue boat was a happy sight,” said Switzer. “It gives me satisfaction that what I am doing can benefit others. On the MH-60R [helicopter] we do not get a lot of SAR operations, so it was cool to see all the training that I have gone through actually put to work.”
Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hatch, Air Boss of HSM-51 Detachment 3, applauded his Sailors for their display of mission flexibility and versatility. “The crew of Warlord 11 did a fantastic job in responding quickly and effectively. I am extremely proud of the crew and grateful for the time I have served with them as their officer-in-charge.”
HSM-51 Detachment 3 is embarked aboard Dewey, assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15; Dewey is underway supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific. Commander, Task Force 71/DESRON 15 is the Navy’s largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force.