Partner-ships: U.S., U.K. work together saving crew stranded on yacht

RAF Mildenhall, England -- Imagine this: You’re on a yacht traveling from country to country. Five days into your travels, a rogue wave hits the boat, dragging its mast into the water and snapping it; you are stranded at sea.

For fourteen people this scenario was their reality. On Feb. 9, 2017, the Clyde Challenger, a 60 ft. racing yacht, was traveling from the Azores heading to the U.K. when disaster struck. The yacht and those aboard were stranded hundreds of miles from land, awaiting rescue.

The U.K. Coastguard picked up the emergency beacon alert that was sent out by the crew of the stranded yacht. The HMS Dragon, a Royal Navy warship, was then diverted to the rescue.

“While working, I received notice from the command post controller, advising me that the U.K. Coast Guard was in search of assistance,” said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Clauss, 100th Operation Support Squadron NCO in charge of wing scheduling. “I received notice from leadership requesting our KC-135 Stratotankers to provide communications to relay from the vessel to the U.K. rescue.”

This is the point where partnerships came into play. The tanker departed from RAF Mildenhall, joining the rescue efforts by providing overhead surveillance and communication support. Although CV-22 Ospreys from the 352nd Special Operations Wing were dispatched to attempt a long-range rescue option, it wasn’t possible due to the weather.

“After speaking with the KC-135 Stratotanker crew, they told me that they flew overhead of the distressed vessel and talked with them on the radio throughout the duration they were there,” said Clauss. “When they first arrived they were talking more often to the crew onboard the vessel, but due to limited battery life of the radio, they began communicating every 30 minutes.”

Other vessels made multiple attempts to rescue the stranded crew, however the weather conditions prohibited a safe rescue. The crew was eventually rescued after the HMS Dragon arrived on scene Feb. 11, after traveling 20 hours through the raging seas. All fourteen crew members were rescued and brought aboard the ship, given medical attention and food.

"Unexpected life-saving opportunities like this one illustrate the importance of partnership training and the relationships behind those activities,” said Col. Thomas Torkelson, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander. “Knowing the individual on the other side of the phone call reaps tremendous benefits when multiple organizations attempt to bring resources to bear. This was a tri-Wing win, and a U.S. – U.K. win, and we're so grateful no lives were lost."