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The North Bend Eagle


Confrontation with pirates turns bloody

by Lt. Seth Saalfeld
Published 7/13/11

Seth Saalfeld is a North Bend native and a 2001 graduate of North Bend Central. What follows is the conclusion of his story about a hostage rescue mission off the east coast of Africa in February. Click here for the first part of the story.We pick the story up as Saalfeld and his Dragonslayer 615 helicopter crewmates prepare to serve as casualty evacuation in the mission against the pirate-held sailboat Quest.

At 0851, the call came to launch as the Special Forces boat crews were ready to depart. Dragonslayer 615 was the first off deck outbound to an overwatch position well behind the Quest and the shadowing warships while Dragonslayer 614, the mission’s lead helicopter, was delayed with engine problems.

The forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera on the nose of the aircraft was trained on the scene as the boat crews took a position behind one of the warships that had just completed a wide circle to put itself nearer the Quest. Only 20 minutes into the flight and almost immediately as the warship’s turn was complete, radios lit up with chatter “RPG fired, RPG fired!” A rocket propelled grenade had been fired at the nearest ship. “Shots fired, shots fired on board!” came seconds later.

The boat crews sprung out from behind the ship and quickly approached the Quest. As swiftly as they arrived, Special Forces boarded the sailboat just as the FLIR showed a weapon being thrown from the deck of the Quest.

The suspected pirates had opened fire on the four American citizens. Dragonslayer 614 had arrived during this initial response and was now, through communication with 615, trying to determine the full scale of events as a dynamic scene appeared to unfold in front of them.

“Immediate CASEVAC! Slayer 615 immediate CASEVAC!” There would be no time to draw a picture, we were inbound. Conditions of the casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) were quickly relayed and it was agreed, in the aircraft, to insert the pararescuemen to assist. A 15-foot hover was going to be the best method.

“Standby to deploy swimmers!”

“Jump! Jump! Jump!”

These were standard calls on this anything-but-standard mission. Now in the water, the pararescuemen were immediately picked up by a special boat crew and delivered to the Quest. Coming to a 70-foot hover, a patient pickup was soon coordinated with the boat force leader. A boat positioned itself below the helicopter and hoiseted the first MEDEVAC in a litter. The Dragonslayer aircrewmen smoothly brought it aboard and the medical specialist went to work on Phyllis Macay, a 59-year-old sailing enthusiast from from Seattle, Washington. Macay, a member of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club, had recently joined her friends on the Quest.
615 departed the hover and used all the speed the helicopter could deliver in returning to the aircraft carrier where more medical assistance stood informed and prepared. At 0935, the medical specialist and patient were received by the USS Enterprise medical team. The specialist would stay with Macay.

With no delay, 615 lifted off and hustled back to scene where 614 was now standing by to assist.

“Slayer 615, Immediate CASEVAC!” was heard again. Our relative position and role as primary CASEVAC brought the call, but with our medical specialist back on the Enterprise with Macay, we had no dedicated medical personnel aboard. That meant one of our pararescuemen would come up with the patient.

A 70-foot hover was maintained again as the aircrewmen hoisted the victim and pararescuemen simultaneously to the aircraft.

Bob Riggle was also a member of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club who had recently joined the others on the Quest. As a veterinarian, Bob often volunteered at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Rescue breathing was performed by the Dragonslayer aircrew during the short transit as the Enterprise was now much closer.

At 0945, the MEDEVAC patient and pararescueman were delivered, both leaving with the medical team. 615 was again airborne. Dragonslayer 614 was called in for a MEDEVAC soon after 615 had left the scene with Bob Riggle. This time they lowered a litter for the patient to the boat and then quickly hoisted the third MEDEVAC.

Scott Adam, from Marina del Rey, California, was retired and in his 60s. He had started off on a quest with his wife to sail around the world delivering Bibles on a mission through their Santa Monica church. They had been sailing full-time to remote regions of the world since 2004. Throughout the past few days he had maintained a line of communication between himself, his captors, negotiators and leadership of the U.S. Navy ships with the sailboat’s radio. En route to the Enterprise, the pararescueman performed lifesaving efforts until 0950 when he was delivered to medical personnel.

At the same time, Dragonslayer 615 was repositioning for the fourth call for CASEVAC and again recovered the litter in the same manner as before. Jean Adam, also in her 60s, had called the Quest home with her husband Scott. They were continuing their chosen mission with their friends on their way from India to Oman before being hijacked. She was delivered to medical personnel at 0955.

Both aircraft remained airborne helping to coordinate the transfer of the captured pirates. Thirteen of the 15 of them left the Quest alive to face charges along with two more who had been previously captured. Dragonslayer 614 and 615 would both land before noon.

The hours and days to follow would bring up many questions. But there would be no question as to the loyalty and reverence shown to four fallen Americans.

None of the four former hostages survived the gunshot wounds they received from the pirates.

A 24-hour guard in full dress uniform would be manned by young sailor and Marine volunteers as long as Jean and Scott Adam, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay remained aboard, a shining representation of the American spirit. The same was shown in their departure. Complete with scripture readings, prayers for their families, the choir singing “Amazing Grace,” over a thousand personnel of the USS Enterprise and Carrier Air Wing One lined the path to the plane that would take the foursome back to the United States.

It was clear the events of the Quest had become emotional for many. For the Dragonslayers of HS-11 it would not be the last piracy encounter. Less than four weeks later Dragonslayer 612, an SH-60F, successfully interrupted a hijacking of a foreign merchant vessel. They received and returned fire during the event while the suspected pirates successfully evaded to their mothership. The track of the mothership would be lost overnight as concern turned to the possibility that other suspected pirates could have still been on the merchant vessel.

The actions involving the Quest hijacking and that of the merchant vessel, along with the results of charges brought upon all “suspected pirates” will continue to shape U.S. policy. The brutality and scale of piracy activities is clear. The efforts of the coalition and U.S. military to reduce these activities will continue.

We all hope for their success.

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