AEGEAN SEA -- Search and rescue (SAR) swimmers aboard amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD 5), responded to a vessel in distress in the Aegean Sea March 8.
When the SAR team from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 arrived on-scene, they observed the Turkish-flagged container vessel, Yusuf Cepnioglu, had run aground.
The vessel was listing with the stern completely submerged and leaning against the rocky shoreline. Two individuals were seen on the ship's bridge wing and upon request for assistance from the vessel's chief officer, the SAR team requested they move to the top of the bridge.
"Initially, we saw a vessel listing on the rocks, an overturned life boat, a beached raft, and two guys on the bridge," said Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 3rd Class Taylor Gehricke a search and rescue swimmer from Tampa, Fla. "We conducted a search looking for others, but there was no one else on the vessel."
While the SAR helicopter was hovering over the vessel, the crew encountered heavy winds and rough seas. Despite these conditions, the team lowered Gehricke, to the top of the vessel's bridge to rescue to two stranded mariners. Gehricke placed the rescue strop around the first individual and they were lifted 70 feet back to the helicopter. The vessel was listing even more as the rescue swimmer approached the top of the bridge to save the second mariner. Despite Gehricke and the mariner falling to the deck multiple times, the strop remained attached and both brought back to the helicopter safely.
"The ship started rocking and shaking really hard," said Gehricke. "I fell multiple times rescuing the second mariner. Situations like this are why I joined the Navy, to help people."
Once the mariners had been rescued, the SAR team brought them back to the flight deck aboard Bataan where the medical team was standing by to assist.
"The initial word reported was for possible hypothermia," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Thomas Ramocki from Wakefield, Mass. "When the mariners arrived they were able to walk to the ship's medical facilities where they were assessed by staff."
Ramocki said that Bataan's medical team assessed the mariners from head to toe, and determined they were in good health.
The Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group is on a scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations, providing crisis response capability and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.