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October 2010

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A crew from the SIU’s Government Services Division, while serving aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ship Thomas Jefferson, recently assisted in the rescue of a downed pilot in Florida.


While involved in underway mapping survey operations west of Key West, Fla., the union-trained crew members on Aug. 14 heard a U.S. Coast Guard radio report advising that a small aircraft with one person aboard had crashed in the water some 30 miles away from their vessel’s location. Springing into action immediately, the crew notified the Coast Guard that they would assist in the search and rescue operation. The Thomas Jefferson altered course without delay and steamed toward the downed aircraft’s reported position.


By utilizing the Jefferson’s advanced navigation equipment, including the Doppler speed log and Global Positioning equipment, the crew was able to estimate the ocean current and focus their search area around a location approximately two nautical miles south-southwest of the reported crash site.


“We posted extra personnel as lookouts and used our searchlights in a sweeping pattern, all while keeping a quiet bridge so we could hear any calls of distress from the pilot,” said Shepard Smith, the Thomas Jefferson’s commanding officer.


The crew shortly after 1 a.m. EDT heard cries for help off the port (left) side of the vessel. Immediately the captain brought the ship to an emergency stop and deployed a rescue boat. “By turning the ship in the direction we originally heard the sound, we were able to locate the person in the water using the searchlight, and guide the rescue boat to pick him up,” Smith said. The pickup position was about a quarter-mile from the ship’s estimated search position.


Except for a cut lip, according to Thomas Jefferson medical personnel, the pilot was reported to be in fine shape after being plucked from the water. He was transferred to a nearby Coast Guard vessel for a return visit to Key West. Once there, the rescued pilot was met by his anxious father, who had been waiting at the airport to pick him up when the news of the crash reached him.


The Thomas Jefferson is one of the most technologically advanced hydrographic survey vessels in the world. Equipped with high-resolution seafloor echo sounders, the 208-foot platform and its 36-person crew can map the ocean bottom and identify areas of interest to coastal managers, biologists, geologists and emergency responders. The vessel has been in the Gulf of Mexico since April. Its original mission was to map the seafloor and look for hazards to navigation off the Gulf coast. However, following the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, the Thomas Jefferson spent six weeks conducting research on submerged oil plumes.

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Thomas Jefferson Crew

Pictured next to the ship are (front row, from left) GVA Armando Medina, CB Bernard Pooser, OS Anthony Teele, SS Jonathan Anderson, SST Peter Lewit, 3AE Vic Medina, (middle row) LT Mark Blankenship, 2C Nestor Poblete, 1AE Armando Mangaya, EU Otis Tate, AB Sonny Palmer, BGL Robert Bayliss, CST Dan Wright, AST Matt Van Hoy, ST Kim Glomb, LT Denise Gruccio, LT Michael Davidson, (back row) ET Dave Miles, ENS Lindsay Morrison, ENS Joe Carrier and SST Doug Wood. (Thanks to NOAA CDR Shepard Smith for supplying the names for this caption.)