USNS Concord's helos go for Glory
By Sheree Callahan
Heavy seas and high winds faced the crew aboard Military Sealift Command combat stores ship USNS Concord as they rushed to rescue the 27 crew members aboard a sinking Egyptian-flagged cargo ship, MV Green Glory, in late June.
Concord's usual mission of replenishing supplies such as food and repair parts to the U.S. Navy fleet at sea was interrupted on June 23 when Concord was directed by the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet to go to Green Glory's aid.
Green Glory had an engine fire and was immobile in the waters off the coast of Oman while en route to Portugal.
The morning of the 24th, Concord's search and rescue capable MH-60 utility helicopter, part of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 5 out of Guam, lifted two Navy rescue swimmers from Concord onto Green Glory to assist with efforts to evacuate personnel and to launch lifeboats. The helicopters from Concord are usually used to transport pallets of cargo to other ships.
With 18- to 25-foot seas - equivalent to the height of a two-story building - and 35 mph winds, it took much effort by the civilian mariner crew aboard Concord to hold the ship on course for the rescue operation.
"They were the worst conditions I have ever flown in," said Lt. Harrison Schramm, USN, the helicopter pilot who flew the rescue mission.
When the rescuers arrived, Green Glory was half submerged and was rolling heavily from side to side. The rescuers helped the Egyptian crew members board Green Glory's lifeboats. The goal was to get Green Glory's crew off the sinking ship quickly.
Two crew members jumped off Green Glory and had to be saved from the ocean. The ship was almost submerged to the main deck as the last person was safely in a lifeboat.
Then, while hovering over the lifeboats, the helicopter crew used a winch to pull each crew member from the lifeboats into the helicopter. The rescue swimmers accompanied some of the more traumatized crew members as they were lifted from the lifeboat into the helicopter.
The helicopter then transported the seamen to the deck of the British navy's Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service ship RFA Sir Tristram, which was close by. Four trips were required to fly all the Egyptian mariners aboard the British ship. None of the mariners sustained any injuries.
"It took great skill to winch the 27 Green Glory crew members out of the lifeboats without any injuries," said Capt. Philip Hanton, Sir Tristram's master. "The helicopter crew had to contend with a sizeable sea swell in trying to rescue them."
Concord's crew also assisted four of Green Glory's crew members when they came aboard Concord while the helicopter refueled and departed to rescue more people.
"We gave them a meal and some dry clothes, and they were very grateful," said Capt. Mike Murphy, Concord's master.
The four Egyptian mariners were later flown to Sir Tristram to join the rest of their crew who had also been given food, clothing and medical care by their British hosts.
Green Glory's status is currently unknown.