Mariners missing in South Pacific found safe

Apra Harbor, GUAM – Two missing mariners are safe after they were located by a Marine Corps aircrew approximately 69 miles northwest of Chuuk Island at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

A Marine Corps aircrew piloting a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 spotted the skiff while conducting a search in coordination with Coast Guard Sector Guam.

A life raft with an aviation radio, food, water, flares and signaling devices was dropped to the men aboard the skiff.

The 623-foot motor vessel Solar Africa, registered with the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System, was vectored in to assist the stranded mariners. The crew of the Solar Africa picked up the mariners at 4:40 p.m. A Chuukese fishing vessel transferred the mariners from the Solar Africa and took them to Chuuk Island.

Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector Guam used the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System to help plan where the search would be conducted. The search for the two overdue mariners occurred not long after the 2012 Manaw search and rescue exercise concluded. The data acquired during the exercise was put into SAROPS, which assisted in locating the two men.

This search was conducted with the new drift data that was compiled last week during a leeway field test conducted near Chuuk during the 2012 Manaw search and rescue exercise. The exercise scenario involved the Micronesian Maritime Police and Coast Guard cooperating with other government agencies from both countries to dispatch rescue teams.

The leeway test and exercise drifted the exact same vessel type as the overdue skiff which had the two persons aboard. The field test was designed to evaluate the leeway, or the effect of wind upon the exposed surface of a boat based on its size, shape and dimensions. During the field test and exercise, two skiffs were used to help track wind, current and the speed to get a general consensus of how all these elements affect these small vessels. During the exercise the Coast Guard search and rescue planners in both Honolulu and Guam were evaluated on the ability to use the computer drift modeling to locate the adrift skiff.

“It was extremely fortuitous that we conducted this leeway field test and exercise enabling us to apply the valuable drift information just before these individuals went missing,” said Richard Roberts, deputy branch chief of incident management in the 14th Coast Guard District. “The data collected from last week’s exercise was incorporated into our planning model to produce the optimal search pattern that was executed flawlessly by the Marine Corps aircrew which resulted in a successful conclusion to this case.”

The leeway field test and exercise are part of a multi-faceted approach, which has been in the works for more than four years, to improve search and rescue response and prevention in the Pacific region.

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