AF Pararescue Team Aids Chinese Sailors Off Mexico

A rescue group from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base flew nearly 11 hours Saturday to parachute into the Pacific Ocean and help stabilize two critically burned Chinese sailors whose ship sank off the coast of Mexico.

The two sailors were among 11 who were found floating in a raft Friday afternoon by a Venezuelan fishing vessel, Maj. Sarah Schwennesen, a D-M spokeswoman, said Sunday.

Two of the sailors died after being found by the Venezuelan vessel, and seven were in "OK condition," Schwennesen said.

The bodies of the two men and the seven survivors were transferred to a Chinese-flagged ship in the area, bound for China.

Six Chinese sailors are still missing, Schwennesen said, adding that the numbers are "fluid."

Airmen from the 563rd Rescue Group flew almost 11 hours in a Combat King II aircraft to parachute six Guardian Angel personnel into the water. Five pararescuemen and one combat rescue officer used two inflatable lifeboats to reach the Venezuelan ship, which was about 1,100 nautical miles west of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

"At first glance before I parachuted down into the Pacific Ocean, my only thought was that others may live," Staff Sgt. Chris Peters, a pararescueman with the 48th Rescue Squadron, said in a news release.

The rescue crew stabilized the injured men who, along with the rescuers, were to be hoisted onto helicopters and flown to Cabo San Lucas once the Venezuelan vessel got closer to the coast, Schwennesen said.

The rescuers and two Chinese sailors were to be transferred onto another Combat King II aircraft, and the injured were to be flown to a burn center in La Jolla, California.

Forty-nine airmen from the 48th, 79th and 55th Rescue Squadrons, 10 Guardian Angel personnel, two Combat King II aircraft, and three Pavehawk helicopters participated in the mission.

"The amount of personnel involved in this rescue mission is standard, in terms of deploying a package capable of maintaining operations in a nonmilitary location, and performing maintenance and logistics operations for the airmen and aircraft involved," Lt. Col. Peter White, deputy director of Exercise Angel Thunder, said in a news release.

Exercise Angel Thunder, the world's largest rescue exercise, is taking place throughout Arizona and California through May 17. Participants include U.S. and foreign military personnel, as well as personnel from numerous agencies in the U.S.

An aerial refueling aircraft from the Arizona Air National Guard's 161st Air Refueling Wing out of Phoenix also helped provide fuel for the mission.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received a request for help by the Venezuelan fishing ship that found the sailors around 5 p.m. Friday.

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