“We are extremely fortunate to have lost only metal, and not the life of one of our Airmen,” Brig. Gen. Marc Sasseville, 113th Wing commander, said in a statement.
The Coast Guard said it was alerted to the pilot’s ditching by a distress signal from his ejection seat at about 10:30 p.m. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter that was based at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., arrived around midnight, according to the Coast Guard. It was faster to send the helicopter instead of a small boat from Chincoteague, said Petty Officer David Weydert, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 5th District in Portsmouth, Va.
Three other planes were also taking part in the training, and one remained in the area to help guide Coast Guard rescuers to the downed pilot, Odle said. The downed pilot was wearing a life vest and had a handheld radio with him in his life raft that enabled him to communicate with the pilot that remained in the area, according to the Coast Guard. That pilot relayed the information until the Coast Guard helicopter could get close enough to communicate directly.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Bret Fogle, the rescue swimmer on the operation, said it was pitch black outside during the rescue, but the downed pilot followed his training and lit rescue flares so he could be found. He said the pilot’s demeanor was calm when he reached him, even though his right knee was in an incredible amount of pain. He said putting the pilot on a board so he could be lifted into the helicopter felt like he was putting the pilot’s knee through torture because it was swollen to the size of a grapefruit and appeared to be broken.
Fogle said he’s been a rescue swimmer for 13 years. This is the first time he or anyone else he knows has rescued a pilot that’s had to eject into the water, but he said the Coast Guard regularly trains for such a scenario. He said the rescue was the highlight of his career.
“We’ll usually rescue civilian fishermen or cruise ships,” he said. “To actually be able to get the opportunity to help somebody out, to help this caliber of a person for what he does for our country and everything, is just a really neat feeling.”