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thedrifter
07-10-03, 05:52 AM
Tarawa's crew swings into action after man climbs rail, jumps

By David Hasemyer
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

July 9, 2003

ABOARD THE TARAWA A young Marine jumped over the side of the amphibious assault ship Tarawa on Monday night, causing a frenzied search and ultimately relief when he was plucked alive from the surging ocean.

"This is our lucky night, I'll tell you," said the ship's commander, Capt. Jay Bowling, the last words coming in a whisper of fatigue and thanks.

The unidentified Marine apparently climbed over the railing about midships and plunged into the water, ignoring pleas to stop from several nearby sailors.

Immediately, a sailor tossed a life ring with a flashing strobe light into the water and called out, "Man overboard!"

The ship, heading home to San Diego after serving in the war against Iraq, instantly went into emergency mode. A search-and-rescue helicopter was scrambled, and a head count of everyone aboard was conducted.

No motive has been determined, and further details are not being released pending an investigation.

The ship was packed with 2,600 sailors and Marines returning from a six-month deployment in the northern Arabian Sea and off Iraq, and is hosting about 300 civilian family members traveling with the Tarawa from Hawaii.

It was 11 p.m., well after lights out on the ship, when the call came over loudspeakers: "Man overboard. Man overboard."

That was followed by periodic announcements counting off the elapsed time from the distress call.

"Man overboard time plus three minutes," said the firm but ominous voice.

There was confusion, as sleepy civilians shuffled the narrow, dimly lit hallways and sailors cradled children in their arms as they made their way to predetermined meeting points to be counted.

"Man overboard time plus 16 minutes" and the thundering sound of the helicopter lifting off the deck signaled that the search had begun.

An hour passed.

The helicopter circled around the ship, swinging wider and farther away with each sweep.

Lookouts on deck donned night-vision goggles that made the dark ocean come to light in an eerie green.

But it was luck that had Petty Officers Kelly Owens, Luke Willdigg and Jerry Lowe in the right place.

Part of the Tarawa's flight-deck crew, they hustled to the back of the ship after getting the rescue helicopter aloft.

Willdigg saw something, but he didn't know what. He wasn't wearing night-vision goggles.

"I wasn't confident enough to call for the helo to come back," he said afterward.

So he turned to Owens, who was several yards away and using the goggles, to alert her to the floating object.

"I saw him out of the corner of my eye," Owens said.

At first, she wasn't sure either. It could have been a bag of trash floating by. It could have been a stingray.

"I couldn't tell," Owens said.

But she finally made out the figure of a man. Lowe saw him, too.

"Yes, yes, yes! I got a possible survivor!" Owens shouted.

The helicopter was turned back toward the ship, and in less than a minute a rescue diver jumped into the water, now illuminated under the harsh light of flares. The Marine had been floating in the 80-degree water for an hour and 15 minutes.

A rescue ring was looped around the Marine and he was winched into the hovering helicopter and into the care of Navy corpsmen.

Moments after the twin-rotor aircraft touched down, the Marine was helped onto the deck, supported by two corpsmen and wrapped in a dark-gray blanket.

Head bowed and expressionless, he was taken to the Tarawa's medical bay, where he was being treated and was listed in stable condition.

Bowling praised the rescue efforts.

"Think about trying to find somebody in darkness in an open ocean with 5-foot surges," the captain said.

The crew was relieved.

"We've been through a lot without losing somebody," Lowe said. "We are happy to be bringing everybody home."



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David Hasemyer: (619) 542-4583; david.hasemyer@uniontrib.com

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20030709-9999_1m9tarawa.html
Sempers,

Roger
:marine:

firstsgtmike
07-10-03, 07:44 AM
I admit there are complications concerning insurance benefits, terminal pay and allowances, Breach of Contract, Destruction of Government Property, etc. But I'm wondering why the ACLU has not protested the interference with his Civil Rights.

greensideout
07-10-03, 08:10 PM
Well, at least it was a good training exersize for the helo team.
Guess he never thought about the risk of other's life to rescue his sorry tail.

"ACLU", that was good Mike.