Military Salute: Coast Guard chopper crew

By Dal Cannady - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -The emergency call on March 10 got the heartbeats of one Coast Guard crew moving even faster than usual. They were dispatched to rescue two Marines that were forced to eject from an F-18 over the Atlantic Ocean.

"Especially when you hear,' F-18, on fire, hadn't contacted the water yet.' It heightens, it elevates, everything," described aviation survival technician Chris Wheeler, a Coast Guard diver.

"Lots of us went through flight school. Lots of us worked closely with these kinds of guys," added Lt. Jeff Jacobs, the crew's pilot.

The jet went down off the South Carolina coast. That day, the four man team from Savannah was working one of their regular shifts in Charleston.

"We were out in minimal time. It worked out for them because it we'd had to come from Savannah, it would have been an hour or so," Jacobs noted.

"As far as the rescue, it was pretty textbook, pretty straight forward. Take off, go to a point we already knew and look for someone we know is there," added Lt. j.g. Alex Drake, the co-pilot. "We knew this wouldn't be a wild goose chase."

The crew continued to receive information on the plane from Beaufort and tracking transmitters each jet pilot wore.

"They were waving their arms, definitely," Wheeler recalled. "One of the guys when I got into the water, left his raft and started swimming toward me."

"Everybody talks about these because they're memorable. And being my first hoisting, live hoist, we call them, was pretty exciting," added flight mechanic technician Drew Witruke.

The next morning, they flew right back to the same spot and found the black box recorder that would help show why the jet crashed.

"It was just awesome being there for somebody like that. Saving 2 lives is a nice thing to do," Witruke said.

"Just another day at the office," Jacobs said with a sly smile.

For their willingness to risk their lives, this time and others, they earn a WTOC Military Salute.

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