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Rescue of the Lehela K

Against the Wind

The two people aboard the Lahela K had been missing for over a week. Rescue teams had searched over 80,000 square nautical miles without success, when an ARIA aircraft, in transit to Wake Island, detected a weak distress call . . .

The aircrews aboard the ARIA aircraft, call sign AGAR 21 aircraft 61-0326 and AGAR 27 aircraft 60-0374, were outbound from Hickam AFB, Hawaii, in support of a Command-directed test over Wake Island on 26 August 1992. As the task force was departing Hickam, the aircrews were alerted by the Coast Guard to an ongoing search and rescue effort for the surface vessel “Lahela K”, that had been missing since 17 August. The boat had been transmitting distress calls on channel 23 of a citizen’s band radio, reaching ham radio operators as far away as the Marshall Islands. The two people on board had been without food and water for several days. The Coast Guard, Navy, and Army had extensively searched over 80,000 square nautical miles looking for the vessel.

While in transit to Wake Island, the aircrews detected a weak, intermittent distress call from the lost board. Responding immediately to the call, the crews initiated a search effort which entailed flying a grid pattern, with the navigator mapping the strength of the distress calls. This narrowed the search area down to a 1,000 square nautical mile area. In communication with the board, AGAR 27 instructed her to fire a flare. After two flares were fired without making a visual contact, both aircraft coordinated and executed independent search patterns at low altitude for over five hours.

Unsuccessful in their search, the crews devised a plan to utilize the cross-dipole antenna mounted on the seven-foot steerable telemetry antenna in the nose of the aircraft. Making the decision to change the aircraft’s precise mission configuration in order to accommodate the rescue effort, both Mission Commanders led their crews in developing an electronic configuration modification real-time, taking only hours to accomplish what normally took many days. They continued working until they developed an effective method of homing in on the distress calls. The signals from the ARIA’s antenna were routed directly to the HF radios tuned into the citizen’s band channel 23. While swiping the antenna on AGAR 27 left to right, The Mission Commander monitored a signal strength meter and assisted the antenna operator on determining the origin of the Mayday calls. The crew then computed the heading and vectored the aircraft. After two passes, the survivors aboard the boat spotted AGAR 27 and fired a flare, later exclaiming “it was the most beautiful aircraft they had ever seen” AGAR 27 then radioed the vessel’s coordinates to the primary rescue forces. Both of the aircraft when circled over the lost vessel until help arrived.

Of the many accomplishments one is capable of achieving in a lifetime, none can compare with the saving the life of another human being. General Yates, Commander of the Air Force Material Command, in recognizing this heroic effort, stated, “to be involved with saving human life is reason enough for recognizing the efforts of the crews, however, the ingenious way in which this event was accomplished deserves special accolade.” By capitalizing on the ARIA’s high tech systems in unconventional configurations, the crews not only demonstrated their ability to adapt to high-demand, short-notice taskings, but their willingness to apply their knowledge for the sake of others.

AGAR-21 61-0326

Lt Col Mark Nelson, Lt Col Dave Ross, Capt Dave Meador, Capt Vince Orlando, Capt Lou Volchansky, Capt John Hambel, 2Lt Chris Miller, MSgt Bill Fessler, MSgt Jerome Klark, MSgt Allen Riek, TSgt William Lesuer, SSgt Robert Barens, SSgt Diane Dunlap, SSgt Dave Majors, SSgt Lester Pease, SSgt Richard Perez, SSgt Steve Raines, Sgt Christy VanCamp, ARA Jeff Fuller, SRA Robert Guere, Mr Chris Lesniak, Mr Dwayne Reeves, Mr Bob Schutte.

AGAR-27 60-0374

Maj Kevin Calt, Maj Phill Collins, Capt Marvin Blankenship, Capt Jules Hoehn, Capt Frank Albanese, SMSgt Larry Lowe, MSgt Charles Haschke, MSgt Bill Ringle, TSgt Van Adams, TSgt Donald Bonesteel, TSgt Larry Matts, TSgt Guy Smith, SSgt John Mackey, SSgt Mark Rambis, SSgt Larry Richardson, SSgt Scott St. John, SSgt Brian Wiedman, SSgt Jim Woodruff, Sgt Tim Kimmet, SRA Oscar Moreno, Amn Marty Groves, Mr Jack Henry, Mr Mark Simpson, Mr Cliff Stogdill.

Credit: Against the Wind, 90 Years of Flight Test in the Miami Valley