Beale AFB Trains with U.S. Coast Guard to Save Lives by Saving Seconds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Colin Smith
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Beale Air Force Base and U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco train to save lives by saving seconds in a Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) on Aug. 17 off the coast of Yerba Buena Island, California. Beale AFB’s very own Surveillance, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) team along with two U-2 pilots and one T-38 pilot worked with the local Coast Guard to practice response to emergency evacuations that result in a water landing.
“Our speed in these emergency situations is critical and the only way to improve the success rate of these water evacuations is to practice them,” said U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Neal Troyer, 9th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist.  
    This annual training helps each branch to ensure that they are performing their best if a real life situation should ever arise. This Joint Service partnership between Beale AFB and the Coast Guard is pertinent to a successful and safe retrieval of the pilot. There is a lot that goes into a training day of this caliber but ensuring each step is clear for every participant helps translate this training into a real life event. 
    When a pilot finds themselves evacuating from an aircraft, there is a small piece of technology that lives in their survival equipment called a beacon. This beacon alerts both the Coast Guard and Beale AFB with the location of the evacuated pilot. The speed of which this beacon communicates with both parties directly affects the speed they can respond. 
    “We always use live beacons in our training as it is the first step to mobilize the help toward the pilot,” said U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Alan Downs 9th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist. “We do everything we can during the training to iron out any kinks in the beacon communication process, you never know a pilot's condition upon landing and that means that minutes or even seconds could be the difference between life and death.” 
    This full day of training started with a cold morning on the bay while Beale’s SERE Team placed the U-2 pilots, fully donned in their flight suits, into their life rafts and placed them randomly in the water with active beacons. The Coast Guard mobilized after receiving confirmation that the active beacon was a legitimate call for assistance. The Coast Guard uses the MH65 Dolphin helicopter to move to the location of the pilot, who by this point has activated a device called a sea dye marker that colors the water around their raft making it easier to spot them. The Coast Guard lowers a large basket into the water and the pilot climbs into it, assumes a pre-trained sitting position and waits to be lifted to the helo. After the pilot has been retrieved the Coast Guard brings them back to shore while addressing any emergency needs and delivers them to the eager members of Beale AFB. 
    While this may seem simple, it is pertinent that this training be conducted. Ensuring that these events are addressed and carried through as smoothly as possible heightens the chances of survival for the pilots involved. Without the teamwork between Beale AFB and the Coast Guard this process would prove difficult, but when working in tandem each uses their strengths to ensure the survival and safety of the pilot.