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Vacationing passengers aboard a cruise ship found got to see a mid-ocean airshow last week when a small fleet of Air Force rescue aircraft arrived overheard, 350 miles from shore, to transport a sick boy and his mother back to dry land. As decks full of tourists looked on, aircrews from the 920th Rescue Wing dropped pararescue specialists onto the ship, hoisted the mother and son from the deck and headed back to shore.

“These real-world missions are what our countless hours of training have prepared us for,” said Lt. Col. John Lowe, 920th Operations Group commander. “Rescue was able to plan and execute this mission without hesitation.”

When a call arrived of a seriously ill child aboard the Carnival cruise ship Venezia, the ship was 350 miles off the Atlantic coast of Florida. To reach it, the 920th Rescue Wing launched two HC-130J tankers and two HH-60G helicopters, each with two-man pararescue teams on board.

The Venezia is one of the largest cruise ships on earth and can carry over 4,200 passengers and 1,200 crew — roughly the same complement that sails aboard a Nimitz-class Navy aircraft carrier, including the pilots, maintainers and staff of its airwing. In fact, the Venezia weighs more than a Nimitz-class ship, is roughly the same length and stands 20 feet taller.

For most ocean rescues, the Coast Guard is typically the first maritime response force. But the medical condition of the child on the Venezia required immediate care and the distance from shore required helicopters capable of refueling several times, a specialty of Air Force rescue helicopters and their tankers.

“Everyone in the wing mobilized with exceptional speed,” said Capt. Dylan Gann, 301st Rescue Squadron pilot in an Air Force release.

Reaching the ship’s remote location required three air-to-air refuelings, the Air Force said. Both HC-130Js circled overhead as the HH-60s hovered over the ship, first dropping Pararescuemen aboard then recovering them with the patient and his mother.

The helicopters flew the boy to a Florida hospital and returned to Patrick about eight hours after launching.

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