By Melinda Larson
A local lake provides Naval Air Station Lemoore’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team a premiere aquatic platform to qualify its rescue swimmers in direct deployment rescue methods at the land-locked Navy base. Most SAR commands conduct the training and certifications in the open ocean.
“We are unique because we only have nearby lakes available for training,” said Lt. Tim Lacy, the team’s SAR officer.
The SAR unit works with the California State Park’s Millerton Lake rangers to conduct the day and night training.
“We like to conduct the jumps in the summer months because the water temperature is tolerable, around 80 degrees,” said Lacy of the lake that’s located about 50 miles northeast of the installation.
A lake setting is conducive to the complex training, according to the team’s SAR standardization petty officer.
“There’s no sea state on lakes, and lakes tend to have depth,” noted Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Sean Sondergaard. “Millerton is more than 300-feet deep versus a depth of about 18-feet that I experienced while training in Willoughby Bay near Norfolk.”
To accomplish both day and night jumps the SAR team arrives at the lake in the early evening. The swimmers take turns being designated as a survivor. Once over the “survivor’s” location, a swimmer is deployed. The helicopter descends to approximately 10-feet off the water while forward air speed is slowed to approximately 10 knots. Once the proper airspeed, altitude and position over the water is established, the rescuer is given a signal to deploy by the crew chief and the swimmer pushes himself out of the aircraft and into the water below.
“The goal is to get a rescuer to a survivor’s side as smooth and safe as possible,” Lacy added. “A rescue boat with a qualified rescue swimmer onboard monitors the entire qualification process.”
Five of NAS Lemoore’s seven SAR rescue swimmers are now qualified in direct deployment rescue methods.
The SAR team at NAS Lemoore was established in October 2012. Currently there are three Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk helicopters in the unit that will provide search and rescue capabilities to support the open water training requirements of the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Fleet’s 15 strike fighter squadrons based at the air station.