RAF MILDENHALL, England — A bevy of U.S. aircraft stationed in England raced across the Atlantic Ocean off Ireland’s coast Friday to rescue a member of a cargo ship who fell seriously ill Thursday evening.

The mission was headed by RAF Lakenheath’s 56th Rescue Squadron and two of its HH-60G helicopters. But such helicopters aren’t built for the 400 nautical-mile flight, so an RAF Mildenhall-based MC-130P from the 352nd Special Operations Group flew along to refuel the birds midair.

Since that MC-130P can only go so far, a KC-135 tanker from Mildenhall’s 100th Air Refueling Wing also took to the skies to refuel that refueler.

The U.K. Rescue Coordination Center requested the Air Force’s help Thursday evening after the crewman, a chef, on the container ship Pascha fell ill with some sort of acute internal problem, according to Col. Jay Silveria, commander of Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing.

The 56th’s helicopters took off at about 5 a.m. Friday, picked up the patient in the afternoon and were expected to hit Shannon, Ireland, by 7 p.m.

The crew, including pararescuemen from Mildenhall’s 321st Special Tactics Squadron, were expected to rest and return to Lakenheath on Saturday, Silveria said, adding that the patient was "critical but stable" as of 3 p.m. local time Friday.

A Royal Air Force Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft from RAF Kinloss, Scotland, provided coordination for the rescue effort.

"We’re going to be working on about a 13-hour flying day for the (helicopter) crew, which is well beyond any normal training flight," he said Friday afternoon. "It will be a challenge."

A similar rescue involving the 56th helicopters and various refueling aircraft took place on Dec. 10.

"The combination of the three air frames is what’s key," Silveria said of the reason for the Air Force’s involvement Friday. "The C-130 can refuel the helicopter to extend their legs, and the KC-135 can refuel the C-130 to extend their time. You can’t do it without all three," as complicated of a mission as this is this far out into the Atlantic.

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