Airmen from Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County used their training to help a man in need, far out at sea.

  • Airmen save man with appendicitis on cruise ship at sea
  • Rescue required 3 mid-air refuelings for Patrick helicopters
  • Rescue wing has saved 238 people, 26 pets in 5 months

A 73-year-old passenger was facing a dangerous, life threatening situation: appendicitis.

Under the cover of night, a Patrick Air Force Base 920th Rescue Wing Pave Hawk helicopter hovered over the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas.

But the ship was some 600 miles out at sea off the coast of Florida — a true, long-range rescue.

Two helicopters and a HC-130, loaded with fuel, took off from Patrick on Tuesday afternoon.

"It took about 3 1/2 hours to get out there," said Capt. David Winterlin of the 920th Rescue Wing.

The long trip required three mid-air refuelings for the helicopters, more than 15,000 pounds of fuel in all.

After the aircraft got there, it was a picture-perfect operation — from 35 feet above the deck and 100 feet from the ocean below.

"We hoisted two PJ's down to the deck, with a Stokes basket, and they were able to make contact with the patient, and bring him up, along with his wife," Winterlin said. "The lengths the reservists down here go through to pick up one person far off the coast is quite amazing."

The 920th has saved 238 people and 26 pets over the past five months.

A daring emergency rescue at sea — and now a sick cruise ship passenger on a ship hundreds of miles offshore is on the mend.