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NY Air Guard rescue wing Airmen were part of effort to find lost mini-sub

  • Published
  • By Capt. Cheran Campbell & Eric Durr
  • 106th Rescue Wing

Thirty-eight Airmen assigned to the New York National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing were part of the effort to locate the commercial submersible Titan, which sank while diving on the wreck of the RMS Titanic on June 19.

The wing launched three search missions nine hundred miles out over the North Atlantic on June 19, 20 and 21 at the request of the United States Coast Guard from their base on the eastern tip of Long Island.

The Coast Guard’s Sector Boston was responsible for coordinating the search and rescue mission launched when the 22-foot long, 8-foot-wide vessel lost contact with its mother ship.

On June 22, the Coast Guard announced that the Titan had imploded and the five people aboard had been killed on Sunday, June 18.

But that was not known, when the 106th launched its first search on Monday, June 19 at 3:18 in the afternoon.

Most wing members were celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, but when the word went out that a rescue was underway, Airmen responded, according to Major Patrick Harding, the mission coordinator for the search operations.

“Every time we get a phone call for a mission, everyone at the base is eager to participate,” Harding said.

The HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue launched with 13 people on board. This included six aircrew, two maintenance personnel and five pararescue jumpers.

According to Colonel Jeffery Cannet, 106th Operation Group commander, the pararescuemen were on the mission, along with rescue supplies, in case the submersible was spotted bobbing on the surface. The plan would be to jump from the aircraft and to provide aid as needed.

The maintenance personnel were along in case the aircraft had to be diverted to another airport instead of returning home to Long Island. They also helped look out onto the sea for the missing craft, Cannet said.
The first search mission returned to base at 2 a.m.

It was a challenging mission, said Capt. Christopher Colewell, one of the pilots.

“We didn’t have a lot of illumination. It was very, very difficult to conduct a search,” he said.

Given the complexities of the task, the crew members were assigned specific roles and tools to optimize the search, Harding explained.

Dedicated personnel were assigned to manage the radar, and the forward-looking infrared systems, known as FLIR, he said.

The “scanners” on the long missions looked into all of the aircraft’s ports as the plane flew its search grid, he said.

The flights launched on June 20 and 21 did not include pararescuemen due to information learned about the configuration of the submersible after the first mission.

The rescue wing asked for volunteers to serve as scanners for those ten-hour flights. There were 13 Airmen on the June 20 flight and 12 on the June 21 mission.

Tech. Sgt. Wendy Carranza, a medical technician in the wing’s 106th Medical Group, said she was happy to volunteer to help.

“As an aerospace medical technician, we rely on all of our senses to help others in any situation that may arise to the best of our ability,” she said.

“Using my eyesight against the current and with the current was an experience I will never forget,” Carranza said.

Tech. Sgt. Roberta Farris, NCOIC Commander and Control Operations, was another scanner on the flight and was able to appreciate the complexity of the sea.

“Being a part of the mission was quite the experience, one I’m grateful for,” Farris said.

“You don’t realize how vast the ocean is until you are looking out the window of the C-130 searching for a white capsule amongst the many whitecaps.”

Col Shawn Fitzgerald, the 106th Rescue Wing commander applauded the 106th Airmen for their efforts.

“The Airmen of the 106th prove time and time again that they are ready to respond in any situation and this situation is no different,” Fitzgerald said.

“We would have loved for a better outcome, but I’m proud of our Airmen and their ability to quickly aid in this search. My condolences to the family members of the lost, our thoughts are with you.”

In a press release issued on June 20, New York Governor Kathy Hochul praised the men and women of the 106th for their quick response to the Coast Guard’s request for help.

"The women and men of New York's Air National Guard are always ready to lend a helping hand,” Hochul said.

"I commend the members of the 106th Rescue Wing for their efforts to assist the U.S. Coast Guard,” the governor said.

Major General Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, also credited the wing’s Airmen for their efforts.

"When the Coast Guard called on the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing for assistance in this search mission, our Airmen responded quickly and professionally as they have in the past when called for other missions,” Shields said.

“Our men and women are always ready to respond when needed,” he said.

The Titan was operated by OceanGate Expeditions which charged people to descend to the wreck of the Titanic, which was sunk in 1912 when it hit an iceberg.

The ship, whose wreck was discovered in 1985, is the most famous shipwreck site in the world.

The 106th Rescue Wing flies the HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft and the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter.

The wing’s 102nd Rescue Squadron, which operates the HC-130Js is the oldest squadron in the Air National Guard. The squadron can trace its history back to the 102nd Aero Squadron which was established in 1917.

Missions into the North Atlantic are nothing new for the 106th Rescue Wing.

On May 20, 2022, the 106th Rescue Wing launched an aircraft which flew 1,200 out over the Atlantic Ocean, and dropped medical supplies so a sailboat crew could treat a sailor who had been burned in an accident.

And on April 24, 2017, pararescue jumpers from the 106th Rescue Wing jumped into the Atlantic Ocean 1,500 miles from shore, at night, and performed emergency surgery on two seamen aboard the M/V Tamar who had been badly injured in a fire.

The Airmen saved the lives of the two sailors and then treated them for two days until the ship reached the range of a rescue helicopter from the Azores.