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Hurricane Hunters fly Florence, conduct search and rescue

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) --

Members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron assisted the U.S. Coast Guard with a search and rescue mission Sept. 11, locating a white 41-foot Bali sailing catamaran after completing their mission for Hurricane Florence.

The vessel was making a trans-Atlantic voyage from Portugal to the Bahamas, and was not responding.

The U.S. Coast Guard asked the aircrew to locate, make contact with the missing vessel via VHF radio frequencies, and provide information about the vessel, the number of passengers, safety and emergency equipment.

"After receiving the request from the U.S Coast Guard to assist with locating a sailboat, I forwarded the information to the aircraft commander to gather information about their intentions due to the storm, the vessel's capability and equipment," said Lt. Col. Thomas Moffatt, 53rd WRS navigator. "This isn't the first time we have conducted a search and rescue mission, because as aviators and even mariners, we have a duty to render assistance."

After traveling toward the last known location of the vessel, members of the crew hailed the boat, and received a reply. The Hurricane Hunters then turned to the new coordinates obtained from the sailboat crew in order to locate them.

Members of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, who occasionally fly with the 53rd WRS, assisted the Hurricane Hunters by searching the ocean below for the sailboat, which was located within 10 minutes of arriving at the location.

Once the sailboat crew was located, the aircrew circled the area and continued gathering information, which was relayed to the Coast Guard. The sailboat crew was notified about Hurricane Florence and after their destination and intent was received, the Hurricane Hunters headed back to Savannah, Georgia.

Maj. Brandon Roth, 53rd WRS pilot said, "Although our primary mission is to gather data from storms, we are trained to render assistance in emergencies that occur in the open waters, and often times, we are the only ones available to assist because of that mission."