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563rd Rescue Group saves civilian boatman off coast of Mexico

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. -- Airmen from the 563rd Rescue Group rescued a South Korean boatman aboard a civilian cargo-container ship Feb. 11, about 240 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. 

After the rescue, The crew airlifted Song Byong Gook to a nearby hospital for medical treatment for appendicitis. 

The team departed D-M in an HC-130 for a pre-mission briefing Feb. 9. 

"We intercepted the ship about 1,000 nautical miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas," said Lt. Col. Joel Martin, 563rd Operational Support Squadron director of operations and mission commander for the rescue. "The weather at the ship was pretty rough - about 7-foot waves and winds about 25 knots." 

The crew relied heavily on their training to get past the weather difficulties and complete the task. 

"Our Guardian Angel Weapons System - the combat rescue officers and pararescuemen - use the same procedures for both peacetime and combat rescue missions, so their training lines up more effectively with the kind of mission we just conducted," said Col.
Michael Korcheck, 563rd RQG commander. 

Though the mission was successful, the crew does not specialize in civilian-boat rescues. However, the experience did give the group an opportunity to demonstrate their preparedness to handle a rescue mission at a moment's notice.

"The Air Force Coordination Center knows we can get the job done," Colonel Korcheck said. "We don't specifically train for peacetime search and rescue, but we are all indoctrinated in it during our initial qualification training." 

Along with that training, the 563rd RQG has plenty of experience in peacetime rescues. 

Last year, Airmen from the 79th and 48th Rescue Squadrons - both of the 563rd RQG - assisted Air Force Reserve component helicopter units twice by rescuing civilians from ships hundreds of miles off the coast of San Francisco. 

In 2005, the group rescued an injured American hiker as well as members of a Mexican rescue team, who were stranded in a remote area of Northern Mexico, Colonel Korcheck
said. "Aside from being the closest Air Force Rescue assets in the area, I think our record of success speaks for itself." 

Colonel Martin said, "This rescue was a success because of teamwork and professionalism. In spite of equipment malfunctions and the very dangerous seas, everyone kept their cool and stuck to the plan we made. The HC-130, HH-60 and Guardian Angels crewmembers, I was fortunate enough to lead, are simply the best." 

Currently, the 563rd RQG has had more than 135 combat saves, over 65 combat assists and more than 1,325 peacetime saves. While supporting the relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the 563rd RQG accounted for more than 1,200 of the 4,300 Americans saved by the Air Force expeditionary rescue group.