Two SAR Crew Members Honored For Saving Lives
Two search and rescue (SAR) swimmers were honored by Rear Adm.
James D. Kelly, commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, and Capt. Tom
Parker, USS Kitty Hawk’s (CV 63) commanding officer Jan.
Aviation Warfare Systems Operators 2nd Class (NAC) Jerard Cook
and Bennie Romiti of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 14
were recognized for their efforts with memorial coins for rescuing
the crew of an F/A-18F Super Hornet that was lost at sea while
attempting to land aboard ship.
"It’s great to be part of a team where people put their
lives on the line for you," said Kelly. "I wouldn’t want to
be part of any other organization in the world."
Lt. j.g. Jon Vanbragt of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 102, who
was piloting the aircraft, and weapons systems officer, Lt. Cmdr.
Markus Gudmundsson, ejected from their aircraft after a landing
attempt when awry.
"We saw the tail of the jet floating nearby, and it looked like
the ship was about to run us over," said Vanbragt. "But then we saw
the rescue team coming, and we knew we would be all right."
The rescue of the two pilots was unforgettable for the two SAR
swimmers who pulled them out of the ocean.
"At first, I didn’t believe that it was for real when I
heard the call coming in over the radio," said Cook, who rescued
Vanbragt. "The first thing I saw when our helicopter flew over the
scene of the crash was a parachute, and it looked like it was going
under. I was hoping the pilot was still attached to it."
After Cook was lowered into the water, he found the pilot was no
longer attached to the parachute.
"I then looked back up to the helicopter and saw over my left
shoulder a guy floating in the water," he said. "I then began to
swim toward him."
"He [Vanbragt] was calmer than I was," added Cook. "I was so
excited I didn’t even notice the water was cold."
For Romiti, who rescued Gudmundsson, the operation was equally
"As soon as I hit the water, my adrenaline shot through the
roof," said Romiti. "I did everything I was trained to do when it
comes to rescuing people in the water."
After Romiti had Gudmundsson hooked to the cable and both of
them were pulled back up to the helicopter, they both expressed
relief at the success of the rescue.
"He [Gudmundsson] asked me if his pilot was okay, and I said
yes," said Romiti. "He then asked if we were able to salvage his
(personal items) from the jet, and I said unfortunately, no."
This was the first time Romiti and Cook were involved in an
actual rescue, and both said it is something they will remember all
"This is the best thing you can ever do as a SAR swimmer," said
Romiti. "It feels great to know that we saved two people so they
can go back to their wives and kids."
The Kitty Hawk Strike Group is the largest carrier strike group
in the Navy and is composed of Kitty Hawk, Carrier Air Wing (CVW)
5, the guided-missile cruisers USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and USS
Cowpens (CG 63), and Destroyer Squadron 15.