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U.S. Air Force Carries Out Two Ultra-Long-Range Medevacs in Two Weeks

Air Force pararescuemen get ready to medevac a young boy in need of medical care from the cruise ship Carnival Venezia, May 4 (USAF)
Air Force pararescuemen get ready to medevac a young boy in need of medical care from the cruise ship Carnival Venezia, May 4 (USAF)

Published May 12, 2024 9:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Over the last two weeks, the U.S. Air Force's pararescue division carried out two long-distance medevacs to save cruise ship passengers in distress. The special-purpose rescue wing gets called for civilian rescues when the need is dire and the distances are too great for the U.S. Coast Guard's shore-based assets to reach. 

The first occurred May 4 aboard the Carnival Venezia, at a position about 350 nautical miles offshore in the Caribbean. A 12-year-old boy, identified by local media as Massachusetts resident Aiden Bridges, developed gastrointestinal distress and went to the ship's medical clinic for evaluation. An x-ray revealed that he had a perforated bowel, and his condition required immediate surgery. 

In coordination with SAR authorities, the Air Force 920th Rescue Wing dispatched two modified Pave Hawk helicopters and two special-purpose HC-130J Combat King II aircraft. The HC-130J can extend the range of accompanying helicopters by serving as an aerial tanker. 

This squadron of aircraft flew out from Patrick Space Force Base, Florida to meet the ship. They hoisted aboard Aiden and his mother, then returned to shore to deliver him for emergency care. Round trip, the team covered a distance of more than 1,000 miles over the span of eight hours, refueling three times. 

"These real-world missions are what our countless hours of training have prepared us for. Rescue was able to plan and execute this mission without hesitation," said Lt. Col. John Lowe, 920th Operations Group commander.

Aiden is recovering, his parents told Fox, though he has a long road ahead. "Getting hoisted up there was honestly a lot less scary than I thought it was going to be," passenger Angela Bridges told Fox News. "[The crew] handled the situation amazingly. Their communication, their overall support for Aiden and myself and my husband and my daughter . . . they were great."

The second rescue occurred on May 7, when the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing airlifted a cruise passenger from the Ovation of the Seas at a position hundreds of miles off San Francisco.

The patient, a 64-year-old man, suffered a heart attack when the ship was about 800 nautical miles offshore. He needed urgent medical care, so the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and Coast Guard District 11 dispatched one Air Force HC-130J Combat King II aircraft and one HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. Ovation of the Seas continued to transit closer to shore, and the team met up with the ship about 400 nautical miles off the coast. The pararescuemen hoisted the man onto the helicopter and transferred him directly to Regional Medical Center in San Jose. 

An HC-130J refuels a Pave Hawk helicopter off California, May 2024 (USAF)

The crew carried out in-flight refueling four times and transferred three tonnes of fuel to carry out the long-range rescue.

According to the patient's daughter, Veronica Goode, he is in stable condition and recovering. "He would have been on cloud nine during the helicopter ride if he hadn’t been sedated. He loves to fly," she said.