The call came in just before 10:30 PM–two F-16’s colliding in the Atlantic, with a pilot in the water.
As a pilot himself, Lt. David Birky knew how bad it could be.
“Two F-16’s in the middle of the night at the speeds they were going? Not a positive outcome,” said Lt. Birky.
“My first thought was trauma injuries, and hoping he was just hanging in until we can get there,” said Rescue Swimmer AST-1 Bret Fogle.
AST-1 Fogle says their crew soon found out the jets only clipped wings, and one was able to fly back to Maryland–but the other had plunged into the ocean, with the pilot ejecting, suffering a broken leg.
He was alive…but they still had to get him out of the water.
“It was dark, dark as I’ve ever seen it out,” said AST-1 Fogle, as they made the trip northeast from Elizabeth City to the coast of the Eastern Shore, where the jet went down about 35 miles away from Chincoteague.
Using flood lights and flares, they located the pilot, floating on an emergency raft attached to his seat, and the rescue swimmer quickly jumped in to get him.
“He seemed calm, very calm, until I started moving him,” said AST-1 Fogle. “He was in a lot of pain, I tried to get him out a couple of times, so I ended up having to cut the raft.”
AST-1 Fogle finally got the pilot onto a backboard, and strapped him in…that’s when AMT-2 Mark Bergman hoisted him aboard the Jayhawk.
It just happened to be the Coastie’s first ever live hoist during a search and rescue mission.
“I’d like to say it’s a big deal, probably one of the biggest things I’ll do in my career,” said AMT-2 Bergman. “It felt really good to get him back there, and that he was okay. It could have been a lot worse.”
The total mission took about 30 minutes– that’s when Lt. Birky flew the helicopter back to Joint Base Andrews to get the pilot medical treatment.
“It was definitely mission accomplished, and since we were able to fly him back to his home base so he wasn’t alone in the hospital, that was good too,” said Lt. Birky.
“Definitely the highlight of my career,” said AST-1 Fogle.