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Thu, Feb 17, 2005

Rescue of Pilots a Triumph for All

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. 30.

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 nerve-racking.

"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 their lives.

"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.



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