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THE PERFECT STORM

Rescue Teams And Military Support

The production filmed sequences at Pt. Mugu Air National Guard Base, north of Los Angeles. The rescue portion of the filming was among the most complicated of all the movie's complex sequences, in large part because it simulated actual emergency operations which involve many different government resource and information services and several military agencies, each simultaneously performing distinct and urgent functions.

Among the vessels that were employed for rescues in the storm of ‘91 was the Coast Guard cutter Tamaroa. As the 1,600-ton, 205-foot-long craft was sturdy but slow-moving, Falcon jet spotter planes were used to locate stranded boats and communicate their position to the Coast Guard ship. Then the determination had to be made as to whether the Coast Guard could get to the stranded boat in time to save it.

The rescue of the sailboat that Junger described in his book was an example of the Air Force and Coast Guard working in conjunction with the District Command Center. Once it was determined that the Tamaroa could not make it to the sailboat in time, the Command Center dispatched an H-3 rescue helicopter.

But the H-3 is not effective on long-range missions. For those, the more powerful HH-60 (PAVE Hawk) has to be employed, usually in conjunction with a C-130 transport plane that can refuel the chopper in mid-air. Such was the case in the attempted rescue of the Andrea Gail. It is all a complex choreography of military hardware. And perhaps more complex an arrangement than was necessary for the demands of movie drama. For the sake of clarity and continuity, all the rescue scenes in the movie involved the HH-60.

"An HH-60 helicopter is state-of-the-art as a rescue platform," says Colonel Ed Bellion of the Air National Guard. "It can fly at low level; it can fly at night in the dark; and it's air-refuelable. The air-refuelable capability allows it to work in coordination with the C-130 cargo planes to give it an extended range so it can get out there on those deep ocean rescues. It's a great aircraft. But it's only as great as the team of men working to make it serve its purpose."

While both the Air Force and the Coast Guard provided invaluable assistance to the production, it was nothing compared to what they supply to real fishermen every day.

"Our men use combat skills on a day-to-day basis in rescues," reports Colonel Bellion. "It's a dangerous business, but that's what they practice for — combat and combat rescue. They go behind enemy lines to pick up, say, a downed pilot and weather is just something they have to deal with."

The motto of the rescue squads is "...That others may live." The rescue parajumpers, pilots, spotters, sailors and divers who make their living by this motto are a special breed.

"Most people we rescue have picked the worst night and the highest seas to be out in," related Lt. Desmond Casey, a rescue pilot who worked with the production while it filmed at the National Guard base in Pt. Mugu. "So, over-water rescues are always tough because you have a boat that's bobbing around. You may be holding in space but the boat's jumping 50 feet up and down. You don't want the boat hitting the helicopter and you don't want to be hitting the water, so it can get pretty dicey. And even with night vision goggles, you have absolutely no reference because there is no horizon."

So, what mak

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