Air Force Rescue Coordination Center plays major role in search-and-rescue missions

By COLLIN BREAUX | The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. | Published: July 23, 2019

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE (Tribune News Service) — A tenant unit at Tyndall Air Force Base constantly assists in search-and-rescue missions, including a recent one involving injured fishermen off the coast of Mexico.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) coordinates with other agencies that have appropriate equipment and capabilities to make sure stranded people are helped and steps in when state agencies or anyone else has exhausted all other search-and-rescue capabilities.

AFRCC Superintendent Master Sgt. Craig Belcher played a role in the rescue of the injured fishermen. Once he learned of the predicament the fishermen were in, he coordinated with other agencies — including the 601st Air Operations Center, also at Tyndall — so the necessary logistics and units were in place to make the rescue. The 563rd Rescue Group and 48th Rescue Squadron from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona participated in the rescue.

"It's satisfying knowing we executed such a complex mission in such an efficient manner," Belcher said.

AFRCC Cmdr. Lt. Col. Gene Manner refers to the AFRCC's capabilities as a "Rolodex" of search and rescue capabilities across the country.

"We don't own any assets," Manner said. "We know where the capabilities are to provide search-and-rescue assistance."

For the 2018 calendar year, the group handled more than 10,000 incidents, including 933 missions. It helped save 550 lives.

"Every incident we do our research on or receive phone calls about, we treat as a distressed person or persons," Manner said.

Some calls do turn out to be false alarms. However, other times lives are in danger. Manner told the story of how the AFRCC helped a Bible study camp in Montana. The road to the campsite washed out, and with flooding not receding, camp participants only had enough supplies for 48 hours.

The AFRCC coordinated with the Army National Guard to help save those at the camp.

"Doing what you can do on a phone has just as much effect as picking someone up," Manner said. "Sometimes we bring closure to families."

Safety tips recommended by AFRCC include having a plan if you go on a hike or similar trip, letting someone else know about that plan and having a persoal locator beacon with you. GPS coordinates from the beacon go to the AFRCC.

©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
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