Two Marine Fighters Down

Rescue swimmer ASTC David Toppi.
Rescue swimmer ASTC David Toppi.

Two F/A-18s from the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort have gone down about 40 miles off the coast of Hilton Head Island. The call for help from the Navy came out just before 9am to Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. Within minutes, the Coast Guard had loaded a helicopter with pilot, copilot, rescue swimmer, and mechanic and lifted off from Hunter Army Airfield. A second helicopter left about ten minutes later and a third out of Charleston.

The first responders arrived on scene around 9:20am. With three- to four-foot waves, everyone in the helicopters says it was difficult to spot individuals in the middle of the ocean. One pilot ignited a rescue flair, allowing the rescue workers to go in.

"When we got close enough, they deployed me out of the helicopter," said rescue swimmer ASTC David Toppi. "I was able to swim over, talk to the first pilot, ask him if he was doing okay, inspect that his parachute had disconnected and see that he was in good condition. He was very coherent, he seemed good to go.

"I hooked into him, gave the ready-for-pickup signal," continued Toppi, describing what's known as a double-Airman lift in which both swimmer and pilot were taken aboard the aircraft. "The helicopter moved in, the hoist rope came down, hooked into the hoist, and up we went."

About 17 minutes later, they were on the scene about a half mile away, to pick up the second pilot. They were taken to Hilton Head, where the Marines picked them up in Angel One, a Marine search-and-recovery helicopter. They were taken back to MCAS Beaufort and on to the Naval Hospital to be treated for minor injuries.

No word yet on the cause of the crash.

Reported by: WTOC staff