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Whidbey SAR saves the day, wins plaudits

Rest assured, Puget Sound outdoorsmen and women, the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station's award-winning Search and Rescue team is always on the ready.

NAS Whidbey's SAR received recognition in July as the Navy's 2008 Aviation Search and Rescue unit by the Chief of Naval Operations' SAR model manager.

“We are indeed honored to have been recognized for SAR excellence this year,” said Cmdr. Pete Mehl, NAS Whidbey Island Operations Officer, in a news release. “We take our responsibilities seriously and train every day so we’re ready and able to provide assistance to people in need.”

NAS Whidbey SAR completed 10 search missions, 18 rescues and seven medical evacuations, aiding 38 people in 2008. So far this year, they've participated in ten searches, made 18 rescues and one medical evacuation, assisting a total of 11 individuals.

“Undoubtedly, our SAR crews operate in some pretty remarkable, high altitude, steep and densely-wooded terrains that just aren’t reachable by any other rescue resource,” said Capt. Gerral David, NAS Whidbey Island commanding officer.

The Knighthawk, used by the SAR team, is the most modern and capable helicopter in the Navy’s inventory. It's capable of operating at high altitude and can transit with a high cruise speed, according to a release touting SAR's recent recognition. The Knighthawk is equipped with a 200-foot hoist cable, an all-glass cockpit and has the latest communications and navigation equipment including night vision devices.

The NAS Whidbey SAR team is made up of nine pilots, eight air crewmen, two medical technicians, 24 maintenance technicians and eight civilian aircraft mechanics who train and conduct flight operations using two MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters.

NAS Whidbey's SAR team's primary mission is to support aviation units, ships and submarines that operate and train in and around the base. However, SAR crews are often called upon to provide support to injured or stranded civilians in the North Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.

“Turns out being good neighbors is mutually beneficial,” said David. “People in need are helped, our SAR unit gets some remarkable training – better than any scenario we could make up – and it’s all at no additional cost to the taxpayer because we conduct the rescues within our current training budget.”

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