Fishing Vessel Rescues Downed Navy Pilots
Two Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets were involved in an unspecified mid-air mishap 25 miles off Oregon Inlet, North Carolina on Thursday morning. All four pilots were rescued from the water, two by the commercial fishing vessel Tammy and two by a helicopter from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City.
A second helicopter hoisted the two survivors from the deck of the fishing vessel and transferred them ashore. All pilots were brought to the Norfolk Sentara General Hospital for evaluation, the USCG said in a statement. The pilots suffered only minor injuries.
"We're just so happy we can bring these Navy service members home to their families," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Krystyn Pecora. She told local media that there was already a USCG rescue helicopter in the area at the time of the incident.
The U.S. Navy says that the aircraft were on a routine training mission. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
At the time of the mishap, the commodore of the two aircraft's Strike Fighter Wing, Captain Randy Stearns, was testifying before the House's Joint Subcommittee on Readiness and Seapower Projection Forces regarding the state of the Navy’s Super Hornet / Hornet air wings, which have recently had trouble with maintenance backlogs and parts availability, leading to limited numbers of immediately usable aircraft.
Stearns and other service officials told the subcommittee that a majority of the F/A-18 fleet is not battle-ready, and that it would take as long as a year to put together a reserve air wing for a carrier deployment given current resources.
"There's nothing to pull from the back," Stearns said. "We've already pulled everything forward." Heavy demand for forward-deployed aircraft in Central Command is outstripping the ability to maintain them; replacement F-35C squadrons are not yet ready to go, forcing legacy aircraft to undergo refits beyond their expected retirement dates; and the budget sequester has impacted funding for aviation depots, he said.
The House recently passed its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a controversial provision reallocating $18 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations account (used for war efforts abroad) to equipment purchases, including 14 Super Hornets and 11 F-35s. The administration has indicated that it will veto the House version if it is not modified in reconciliation with the Senate's bill.