ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England — A KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall provided critical refueling capability to a multinational maritime rescue operation Dec. 10, more than 300 miles off the coast of Cork, Ireland.
A crewmember aboard a Liberian-flagged cargo ship steaming across the North Atlantic had fallen 40 feet, suffering trauma that was not treatable without proper medical facilities.
Officials from the British Ministry of Defence quickly realized the need for longer distance air-refuelable helicopters in order to reach the sea-going vessel and called on the U.S. Air Force in England for assistance. As the Royal Air Force launched a Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft from RAF Kinloss in Scotland to monitor the situation and provide communication support, the U.S. Air Force began quickly putting a plan into action.
The tanker was needed to provide air refueling to a 352nd Special Operations Group MC-130P Combat Shadow, which in turn refueled two HH-60G Pave Hawks from the 56th Rescue Squadron at RAF Lakenheath. Air refueling granted additional range to the helicopter, facilitating non-stop flight from Suffolk, England, to the ship. Usually, an HH-60G has a range of just more than 500 nautical miles. The helicopters had to refuel four times during the rescue mission.
"This is a rare chance for us to have direct impact on an event like this," Air Force Capt. Josh Renfro, KC-135 copilot. "This was a terrible accident, but it's rewarding to be able to step in and help.
"It took many people to pull this off," he said. "The flight was ready in record time. The guys on the ground just knew they had another mission, and they surged to get it done. It is the fastest I've seen.
After arriving, Pararescuemen descended to the pitching deck of the MV Anna Rickmers in darkness, prepped the patient for travel, and hoisted him into one of the Pave Hawks. Two hours later, the sailor was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Shannon, Ireland. He is now stable.
"It's pretty cool to be a part of a real-world mission like this," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Jacob Nenneman, KC-135 boom operator. "This is my first rescue mission. Although it's refueling, it's good and different to know you're directly impacting the mission."
The 351st Air Refueling Squadron aircrew was participating in a 100th Air Refueling Wing phase II exercise when the situation unfolded. They immediately swapped gas masks for flight gear, and proceeded to an awaiting tanker. The jet, dubbed Quid 75, was wheels up only 25 minutes after engine start.
"This is a great example of how our people are able to react at a moment's notice, providing vital aerial refueling capabilities when they are needed most," said Air Force Col. Eden J. Murrie, 100th ARW commander. "Everyday airmen from RAF Mildenhall provide critical support to various global missions both in the air and on the ground. On this particular occasion, our assets played a tremendous part in ensuring this medical evacuation was successful, and we should all be proud of the efforts of everyone involved that went into this lifesaving mission."