May 11, 2006 (by Mike Kopack) - The crew of the Sasebo-based U.S. Navy rescue and salvage ship USS Safeguard, with assistance from Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, recovered the majority of components of a 8th Fighter Wing F-16C fighter aircraft and its "black box" May 10.
The engine of USAF F-16C block 40 #89-2099 from the 35th FS being salvaged from its crash site by the USS Safeguard on May 10th, 2006. The aircraft was lost in the Yellow Sea on March 14th.
The aircraft had been lost in the Yellow Sea March 14 off the west coast of the Republic of Korea (ROK).
Safeguard and embarked personnel from MDSU 1, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, arrived at the crash site May 5 and after prepping the area, commenced diving the morning of May 7. After three-and-a-half days and 12 surface-supplied dives, Safeguard managed to recover 85 percent of the sunken aircraft, including the cockpit area, wing segments and several pieces of data recording equipment. The primary crash-survivable flight data recorder (CSFDR), or "black box," was also located, which will assist the Air Force Safety Inspection Board in better understanding the cause of the crash.
The CSFDR and other data collecting devices were immediately transferred ashore by the Air Force for analysis. Larger aircraft components will be offloaded in an ROK port and turned over to the Air Force for further investigation.
"The opportunity to salvage this aircraft was extremely rewarding," said Lt. Cmdr. Doyle Hodges, Safeguard's commanding officer. "The knowledge that the Air Force safety investigation team gains from the data recovered may help to avoid similar crashes in the future. It's a nice feeling to know that you may have played a role in saving a pilot's life."
Hodges credited his crew for a superb performance. He also thanked MDSU 1 personnel for their contributions.
"I could not be prouder of the contribution of every Safeguard Sailor in making this operation successful," he said. "It was truly an all-hands effort."
The sentiments of the operation being an all-hands effort was echoed by the crew.
"No one person could have done the job we did without the support of others," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/DV) Michael L. Bowe-Rahming, a Safeguard diver and the ship's diving medical technician and independant duty corpsman. "The support of the crew, the leadership we have on board and every diver that participates on each one of the watch stations in order to run an effective dive side all contributed to the successful mission we accomplished."
Air Force safety officials were especially pleased with the results of the salvage. The memory data recovered was important, said Air Force Capt. Chuck Armstrong, 8th Fighter Wing chief of safety.
"The Safeguard crew accomplished an impressive feat," said Armstrong. "Their training and experience with salvage operations was apparent in their success."
The successful salvage operation picked up where earlier attempts left off. A similar effort began March 25 but was suspended five days later due to bad weather. That salvage attempt took place during a March 16-30 combined U.S.-Republic of Korea diving and salvage exercise SALVEX 06. The salvage operation was incorporated into the exercise and included the assistance of the crew of ROK ship ROKS Pyong Taek (ATS 27). USS Guardian (MCM 5), participating in the bilateral training exercise Reception, Staging, Onward movement, and Integration/Foal Eagle 06, played a part at that time in surveying the sunken aircraft by deploying sonar on scene.
"The opportunity to work with our Korean allies during the first phase of the salvage operation was a valuable exercise in combined interoperability," said Hodges.
"The biggest benefit comes from the routine training we do on diving generally, things like the Korean SALVEX, and any other diving job we do," said Hodges. "By training the divers to be comfortable working in a variety of underwater environments, and ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to deal with any in-water emergencies or casualties that may arise, we ensure that they are ready to respond to any type of salvage job, whatever the water conditions."
Task Force 76 is the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force and is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.