North Dakota Air National Guard helps rescue people trapped at sea near Guam
Pilots in Fargo flew the MQ-9 Reaper remotely with help from others overseas
FARGO (KVRR) – A routine training mission for the North Dakota Air National Guard recently turned into real-life drama.
Members of the National Guard’s 119th Wing were training at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in February when the scenario quickly changed. Major Nick Hanson says a Fargo-based MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle was ordered into action to locate a 42-foot boat that was in distress, along with three people on board.
“It was flown remotely from here in Fargo. They were doing all the launch and recoveries from Fargo, the first time we’ve ever done that before, with the new technology that’s allowed us to do that. They flew the entire mission, from start to finish, from here in Fargo.”
The mission began Feb. 8, when the Coast Guard received a mayday call. The vessel, Senior Dung, was taking on water. Two people from the boat were located and rescued. After four long days, the search for the third person was called off.
Hanson says on Feb.17, the 119th Wing was called into action again. This time, they were involved in the search for two lost fishing boats, each with several people aboard. The Fargo-based UAV provided full motion, real-time video to the Coast Guard.
“They got a call from the Coast Guard that said ‘Hey, we’ve got some people in distress and wondering if you would be able to assist.’ They ended up reaching out to the unit back here in Fargo that was flying the mission. And then from there, they’re on station for about 26 minutes and located the boat with 16 individuals that they found with a locator beacon.”
Dozens of North Dakota Air National Guard members worked closely together, separated by thousands of miles.
“It was a group effort to get everybody out the door. Everybody across the entire Wing. Down in Guam, we had 39 individuals from North Dakota that were supporting, as well as, probably twenty-something people on shift that were supporting at the time during the real-world search and rescue,” Hanson said.
The Coast Guard, Royal Australian Air Force, French Air and Space Force, and the Iowa National Guard also took part in the search and rescue. They were in Guam to participate in a multi-national training exercise named “Cope North.”