New Coast Guard asset conducts first SAR case

MOBILE, Ala. — The Coast Guard ushered in two historic firsts Friday night when its newest maritime patrol aircraft, the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, stood the watch for the first time and responded to a distress notification from a 78-foot fishing vessel located approximately 228 miles southwest of Mobile, Friday Feb. 5, 2009, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Once on scene with the fishing vessel, the aircrew established communications and determined the boat was not in actual distress, but had accidentally activated the vessel’s 406MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

The Ocean Sentry is the first all-new aircraft delivered to the Coast Guard as part of the Coast Guard’s modernization and recapitalization of aging legacy assets. The twin-engine, turboprop aircraft is capable of flying 7-9 hours depending on fuel load and cargo configuration. It has a hydraulically-operated rear cargo ramp for easy cargo loading/unloading and a mission systems pallet, which provides enhanced maritime safety and security through use of a state-of-the-art sensors and communications suite, including a surface search radar, as well as electro-optical and infrared cameras. Its improved communications capabilities allow it to exchange voice, data or imagery information with other shore, surface or aviation units while in flight or on the ground. It is designed to replace the Coast Guard’s aging HU-25 Falcon jets.

The Coast Guard’s Aviation Training Center in Mobile is the first unit to operate these aircraft. The Ocean Sentry have been undergoing operational testing, and Friday night was the first time a missionized Ocean Sentry was scheduled as a search and rescue responder for the Gulf of Mexico. During the next eight months, the Ocean Sentry will assume all operational duties currently performed by the Falcon jets in Mobile.

While conducting flight training in the northern Gulf of Mexico near Mobile in January 2008, an Ocean Sentry was diverted to the scene of a mid-air collision between two Air Force F-15 fighters from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. A crewman using an enhanced bubble search window aboard the HC-144A spotted one of the pilots in the water and vectored in a nearby Good Samaritan fishing vessel to pick up the pilot.

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