Canadian, French, US aircraft conduct joint rescue mission in the Pacific Ocean

U.S. Air Force photo

French, Canadian, and US forces, alongside local responders, carried out a joint search and rescue operation on July 10, 2023, near Guam, western Pacific Ocean.  

The mission aimed to save the operator and passengers of a distressed vessel located approximately 30 nautical miles northwest of Rota, in the Marianas Archipelago. 

The US Coast Guard (USCG) Forces received a distress call from the operator of a 21-foot (6-meter) center console fishing vessel, disabled and adrift with 11 people on board. 

“Due to the lack of GPS onboard and the inability to use a cell phone to acquire a GPS position, the situation became even more critical,” the US Coast Guard explained in a press release. Consequently, the watchstanders alerted nearby mariners and requested assistance from aircraft crews. 

International forces demonstrate the importance of aerial support in maritime rescues 

The initial response came from a French Air and Space Force A400 Atlas military transport aircraft and crew, which took off from Andersen Air Force Base, less than 10 minutes after the conclusion of a MEDEVAC exercise.  

Since June 28, 2023, 11 French aircraft were deployed to Guam as part of Operation Pegase 23. They will be conducting joint and combined exercises such as Exercise Mobility Guardian 2023. 

Using night vision binoculars, the crew located the distressed vessel around 8 p.m. and guided the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Public Safety. However, the conditions at sea having deteriorated further, local responders had to abandon the operation. 

A French Air and Space Force A400M loadmaster observes the sea through the side door. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Nevertheless, the French Air and Space Force A400 crew maintained visual contact with the vessel while a plan was devised to address the new conditions.  

The USCG cutter, USCGC Myrtle Hazard, and a US Navy MH-60 Nighthawk helicopter were dispatched to the scene.  

USCGC Myrtle Hazard (Credit: U.S. Navy photo)

Due to their inability to maintain their position above the distressed ship any longer, the French A400M aircraft was relieved by a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) HC-130 Hercules, also deployed to the region as part of ongoing exercises. 

The helicopter successfully reached the location around 1 a.m. and its crew promptly initiated the process of hoisting all 11 individuals – nine of which are said to be Chinese nationals – before transporting them to Rota airport, where they were taken care of by the local emergency services. No injuries were reported. The disabled vessel was towed to Rota by the USCG cutter later in the morning. 

“It is in these moments that the mission takes on its full meaning”

“Aircraft crews play a crucial role in our efforts to save lives in challenging maritime situations,” Captain Nick Simmons, commander of USCG Forces Micronesia, Sector Guam. “Using aerial assets, combined with our local partnerships, ensures a swift and effective response to distress calls, ultimately increasing the chances of a successful rescue.” 

“It is in these moments that the mission takes on its full meaning,” Lieutenant Felix, the A440M co-pilot on the mission, recounts. “Thanks to the A400M, we were able to locate the boat in record time. Over the radio, we could feel that the presence of the plane above them reassured the passengers on the boat. We set out for a training exercise with our partners, and we ended up rescuing real people.”

Though the aircraft was not initially designed for maritime patrol missions, the crew of a French A400M transport plane had coincidentally “simulated maritime surveillance and search and rescue procedures at sea” shortly after their deployment to Guam. 

author avatar
Clement Charpentreau
Editor-in-chief[br][br] Clement joined the AeroTime editorial team in 2018 after honing his journalism skills in newsrooms across France. Clement has a particular interest in the role of the aviation industry in international relations. He reports mainly on developments in defense and security technology, and aviation safety. Clement is based in Vilnius, Lithuania.
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