NEWS | March 18, 2021

506th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron Crew Assist in Rescuing 5 Missing Mariners

By Staff Sgt. Divine Cox 36th Wing Public Affairs /

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Editor’s note: The times and dates of the event are in Hawaii Standard Time unless otherwise noted.

U.S. Air Force Guardsmen from the 155th Air Refueling Squadron, Nebraska Air National Guard deployed here, along with Coast Guard and Federated States of Micronesia responders rescued missing fishermen in the vicinity of Houk Island, Chuuk, March 12, 2020.

On March 9, five mariners aboard a 23-foot skiff set sail for a fishing trip, but never returned to the dock.

At 7:15 p.m., March 11, Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam received notification of the 23-foot skiff with five men on board that was overdue from a fishing trip.

Upon notification, JRSC watchstanders issued a SafetyNet broadcast to mariners. Watchstanders deployed an Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircrew from Hawaii, diverted the CGC Myrtle Hazard, and began querying possible volunteer commercial Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System vessels and partners in the area to assist with the search.

“I received the notification Friday evening (CHst) of the missing skiff last seen in the vicinity of Chuuk from Pacific Air Force air mobility division, Hawaii,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Smith, 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations. “Once notified, I contacted the Coast Guard Command Center, since there were no aircraft in the area and asked how we could assist. I called upon my crew and immediately worked a plan to get a crew out there.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Mat Roby, KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft commander assigned to the 506th EARS, and his crew of five Airmen geared up and took off from Andersen AFB determined for a miracle.

After about three and a half hours into their mission, the crew spotted the five mariners on a skiff near Houk Island.

“It was about 3:15 p.m. when we finally got eyes on the missing mariners,” Roby said. “Once we knew for sure it was them, we stayed on scene until the Coast Guard HC-130 crew arrived and deployed a search and rescue kit with food, water, and handheld radios.”

The AMVER vessel Hoegh Bracilia arrived on the scene shortly after and recovered all persons with no contact and COVID mitigation procedures. JRSC directed the AMVER vessel to proceed towards Houk Island and remain off-shore overnight. The next morning, the CGC Myrtle Hazard escorted the skiff back to Houk Island safely.

“Through coordination with multiple response agencies, we were able to save five members of our community and bring them back home to their families,” said Cmdr. Kristen Hahn, search and rescue mission coordinator for Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu.