California Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing
rescued eight people this weekend in Galveston, Texas. The air
guardsmen deployed to Kelly Field in San Antonio for Hurricane Ike
search and rescue support operations.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on search and rescue patrol
spotted unevacuated civilians waving from a bridge on the Bolivar
Peninsula near Galveston. Flooding conditions due to Hurricane Ike
severed an access road onto the peninsula and the civilians were
stranded. U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Army National Guard
helicopters picked up about 30 people.
Soon after the bridge rescues, a Coast Guard helicopter and four
Joint Task Force 129 helicopters, including two 129th RQW HH-60G
Pave Hawk helicopters and pararescuemen, arrived on scene to
assist. During the aerial reconnaissance the crews found no one
else on the bridge because it was under water, said Maj. Matthew
Thomas, 129th Rescue Wing pilot and co-pilot for Jolly 92.
The Coast Guard then dispatched the JTF 129 helicopters to a
home nearby on the northeast side of Galveston. The house was
flooding and a call for help had been made to the Coast Guard.
According to Thomas, the stranded civilians had called their
relatives in Illinois for help. The relatives then called the Coast
The Pave Hawk, Jolly 92, landed in a small grassy area and
pararescuemen, also known as PJs, went to the house to rescue the
four stranded civilians. "The area where we landed was under water
10 minutes later," Thomas said. A second JTF 129 helicopter, Jolly
91, was hovering nearby during the rescue, and the sound of the
helicopter prompted additional unevacuated civilians to leave their
homes, said Capt. Brian Finnerty, 129th Rescue Wing pilot and
flight lead for Jolly 91.
Two PJs rappelled from Jolly 91 and attempted to convince
civilians that they needed to evacuate. Some civilians refused to
leave and opted to stay in their homes, Finnerty said. The PJs
hoisted two people and two dogs into the Pave Hawk, and the crew
eventually dropped them off at Ellington Field in Houston.
While Jolly 91 picked up the two civilians, Jolly 92 was
hovering nearby with the family of four. The crew picked up two
more people and pets. The crews spotted one man with a spotlight -
his house was surrounded by water. The PJs hoisted the man up in to
Jolly 92 headed to Ellington Field with the six rescued
civilians and pets. The helicopters then returned to Kelly Field.
"Winds at that point were at 60 knots and visibility was low - it
was time for us to go," Thomas said. Overall, four Air National
Guard Pave Hawks and JTF 129 personnel saved 15 adults, one child,
and four dogs.
Joint Task Force 129 is a self-contained search and rescue unit
comprised of more than 100 people, including highly trained
pararescuemen, four HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, and two
MC-130P Combat Shadow tankers. Air National Guardsmen from the
176th Wing, Kulis Air National Guard Base, Ala., are also part of
the rescue task force.
As an Air National Guard unit, many of the 129th's past missions
involved supporting state emergencies that included earthquakes,
chemical spills, fires and floods. Equipped with MC-130P Combat
Shadow tankers and HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters, the 129th
has performed a wide variety of civilian search and rescue
missions, including distressed persons aboard ships, lost or
injured hikers, and medical evacuations.
[ANN Salutes Capt. Alyson Teeter of the Air National Guard's
129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs Office for the story.]