TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - An Air Force rescue team stationed at Davis-Monthan returned home after saving two badly burned Chinese fisherman more than a thousand miles of the coast of Mexico.
Two HC-130J Combat King II rescue planes approached their destination Saturday afternoon, a Venezuelan vessel that picked up the two injured fisherman after their ship caught fire and sunk.
"Just before we dropped the "PJs" at the objective area we received fuel from a much needed tanker from the guard unit up in Phoenix," said Major Nelson Bennett, the pilot of one of the planes.
From the two planes, six Guardian Angels parachuted into the water.
First Lt. Ben Schmidt is one of the six pararescuemen to board the ship and treat the two injured Chinese fishermen.
"No one spoke any Chinese, the only two words they could speak in English is thank you," Schmidt said, "so they said that a lot."
For the next two days, the airmen stabilized the sailors also suffering from smoke inhalation and dehydration.
"If we didn't get to them in time, if we didn't get the fluids to them, they probably would have passed," said the mission's chief doctor, Capt. Russell Gray.
Before retrieving the para-rescuemen and their patients, Dm's helipcotes needed to refuel off of the HC-130Js in midair because of the mission's distance.
"The capability of the 130 to give gas to the helicopter was a key piece in this whole thing," Major Bennett said.
The helicopters hoisted the rescuers and the burn victims off the boat Monday and transported them to Cabo San Lucas.
"To go in and save these individuals lives, all the complexities of the mission itself, is something i'm never going to forget," Schmidt said.
From Mexico, a plane flew the injured fishermen to San Diego where a doctor says they're in critical, but stable condition.
The airmen involved in the mission were taking part in Exercise Angel Fire, the largest world rescue exercise, when they were called into action Friday afternoon.