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NAPLES, Italy — A Navy aircrew over the weekend helped rescue 68 people adrift on a raft in the Mediterranean Sea, more than 80 miles off the coast of Malta.

The sailors, members of Hawaii-based Patrol Squadron 47 and working out of Sicily’s Naval Air Station Sigonella, received a distress call from Maltese authorities just before sunset on Saturday, according to a Navy release. The sailors, at Sigonella for a six-month rotation, boarded a P-3 Orion aircraft, scouring a 30-by-60-nautical-mile area.

The crew spotted a drifting raft that was empty and continued the search, said the crew’s commander, Navy Lt. Nicholas Warack.

“It was essential for us to get assistance to those people,” Warack said Tuesday.

Now flying in darkness, the crew spotted a rubber raft carrying 68 men, women and children of Somali origin, the release said.

Warack said the crew dropped water, food and flashlights to the raft and flagged a civilian vessel, the M/V Verona, 60 miles away.

While waiting for the ship to arrive, the P-3 crew stayed in the area to reassure them that help was on the way, Warack said.

Just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, the M/V Verona arrived and got the passengers on board, according to the Navy, and they were later transferred to Maltese authorities.

The P-3 was designed for long-range anti-submarine warfare, but its mission has evolved to include battle space surveillance over land or sea, according to the Navy.

“The search-and-rescue mission is always something P-3s have been on the hook for,” Warack said.

Twitter: @Stripes_GeoffZ

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