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California Guard Conducts Rescue Mission off the Coast of Costa Rica

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stefany Leyva,
  • 129th Rescue Wing

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – A dynamic team of service members from the 129th Rescue Wing, Moffett Air National Guard Base, conducted a multi-day medical evacuation mission in response to a boatsman who sustained head lacerations after being struck by a metal pole when a pulley snapped on a foreign fishing vessel off the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, July 8.

The 129th Rescue Wing received the call for assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard District 11 Coordination Center Friday evening after the crew members aboard the Victoria G, a Costa Rican fishing boat, sent a duress call requesting rescue capabilities to recover the patient on July 7.

The reported medical status of the injured boatsman stated that he was suffering from loss of consciousness, blood loss, and vomiting from the head injuries.

An HC-130 Combat King II aircraft transporting aircrew and the Guardian Angel pararescue team departed Moffett on July 8 at approximately 9 a.m. for Mexico City, Mexico. 

Before the team could complete the rescue, there were several challenges they had to overcome, including a language barrier and navigating to a remote location at night.

"We were trying to get detailed information on how critical the patient was and that would determine how much risk we would take, and as the sun set and it went into darkness, it elevates our risk jumping in the ocean," said Tech. Sgt. Gershom Rosengarten, a pararescueman with the 131st Rescue Squadron.

Tactical aircraft maintenance specialist Tech. Sgt. Jose Arceo was prepared to tackle the first challenge by serving as an interpreter between the vessel and aircrew. 

"The Air Force is working towards us being multi-capable Airmen, and I knew that I could translate and perform my job at a higher level, so I took on the mission knowing full well I would accomplish both of those tasks," said Arceo.

Initially, the communication was very difficult, but with the support of another boat in the area, the rescue team received real-time information to include the exact coordinates of the vessel and found them within fifteen minutes, said Arceo.

From there, the Guardian Angel pararescue team parachuted into the Central Pacific Ocean and onto the vessel to assess the patient's condition and provide treatment over several days.

"The seriousness of the young patient's injuries was in the back of our minds the whole time we were weighing the risks of jumping a team in at night into such a remote location," said Tech. Sgt. Tammer Barkouki, 131st Rescue Squadron jump master. "We had to assume his injuries were possibly life-threatening or could lead to permanent neurological damage if left untreated." 

The rescue team remained on the fishing vessel and provided extensive neurological exams and treatment over a few days before transferring the patient to a larger vessel, the Royal Midori.

The Royal Midori transferred the patient and pararescue team to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, where the patient received higher care at a medical treatment center.

"When we got to the port here in Costa Rica, two paramedics met us and transferred the patient to the hospital. He was in much better condition than four days prior," said Rosengarten. "Each day that we helped him, there was a noticeable improvement."

The 129th Rescue Wing's mission is to train and prepare its wartime specialized capabilities of worldwide combat personnel recovery over land and water.

"It is a great feeling to know that we could aid an injured person over 2,000 miles away and help bring him home," said Barkouki. "It demonstrates the unique capability the 129th Rescue Wing and the Air Force pararescue team offers, in general, to the Department of Defense and the nation."

This medical evacuation is the 1158th life saved for the Wing.