Brazilian Air Force and Navy’s Joint Sea Rescues

Brazilian Air Force and Navy’s Joint Sea Rescues

By Dialogo
November 03, 2015

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No land was in sight and the sharks looked ready to devour the sailor after having already destroyed his small boat’s rudder. But just when Ebrahim Hemmatnia thought that the end was near, a plane from the Brazilian Air Force appeared on the horizon.

Hemmatnia, a native of Iran and naturalized Dutch citizen, had his dream of sailing non-stop around the world interrupted at end of January, at almost 1,000 kilometers from the coast of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. Called a boat-bike, his vessel is a six meter long pedal boat capable of traveling on land or at sea. Hemmatnia’s plan was to pedal around the globe, crossing continents and oceans, always along the equator.

“There were about 20 sharks. They had been following me for hours and, once they damaged the rudder, I was left adrift. So I began to send radio signals asking for help,” said Hemmatnia, considered the world’s first ocean biker. “When I saw the plane, I knew I’d been saved. A few hours later, I was rescued by a Brazilian Navy ship.”

The scene with the plane approaching was recorded by Hemmatnia and gives the viewer chills
. But for the service members of the First Squadron, Seventh Air Group (1º/7º GAV) -- also called the Orungan Squadron -- these scenes are routine.

The Orungan Squadron saves lives

Since January 2014, the squadron has performed 11 rescues, mainly in Southeastern Brazil. Based out of the city of Salvador (BA), the Orungan Squadron today has nine planes and 180 service members. Approximately 60% are crewmembers, men and women, spread out in across various functions on board, such as pilots, mechanics and observers.

All work together with the Brazilian Navy. In the case of Hemmatnia’s rescue, the squadron’s P-3AM Orion plane made visual contact with the distressed vessel at 17:55 on January 29 and remained in the area until 23:20 when search vessel Ouled Si Mohand arrived; later, the Navy’s Patrol Boat Macau rescued the cyclist.

“We conduct joint training exercises with the Navy, such as Operation UNITAS, Operation Fraterno, Operation Aderex and Operation Atlântico”, said First Lieutenant (1LT)Cláudio Henrique Falcão dos Santos, from the Orungan Squadron. “When there is a maritime incident for which SALVAMAR [the Navy’s search and rescue unit] expects to need support from a FAB search plane, the Brazilian Air Space Defense Command (COMDABRA) activates the most appropriate search team for the type of incident.”

A broader effort

The Orungan Squadron is one of three squadrons that form part of the FAB Air Patrol. The other two are the Phoenix Squadron, located in Belém (PA), and the Netuno Squadron, based in Florianópolis (SC); all use airplanes with modern sensors and radar to patrol the coast 24 hours a day. Their primary responsibility is to defend the country’s interests, which includes maritime resources such as oil reserves in the pre-salt stratum. But the rescues and combatting environmental crimes and illegal activities are also part of the routine.

“In coordination with the Navy, we perform obvious patrols of our waters… and we prevent incidents of illegal activity, such as drug trafficking or environmental crimes,” said Major General Roberto Pitrez, commanding officer of the Second Air Force (II FAE), on May 22, Air Patrol Day.

FAB’s patrol planes are also part of a network known as SAR, from the English term “Search and Rescue.” They search for shipwrecks, lost boats or planes, or accidents on the high seas, and the radar and sensor technology on board the airplanes help in searching for and locating victims. In addition, specialized Military personnel, known as SAR observers, perform a visual search to look for persons or objects that may be adrift at sea, as they did during Hemmatnia’s rescue.

The total maritime area being monitored is 13.5 million square kilometers, which is much larger than the continental Brazilian territory itself, measuring 8.5 million square kilometers. To cover all this territory, the P-3AM airplanes have the ability to fly for 16 hours, which means they are capable of traveling from Brazil to Africa and back.

“By crossing great distances at high velocity, the FAB can cover a larger area more quickly,” Maj. Pritez told Brazilian Air Force News Agency. “The information obtained by the aircraft is passed on to Navy ships that are then able to focus their efforts on the locations the aircraft indicate.”