Air Force Called for Long Distance Rescue on Carnival Ship [PHOTOS]

U.S. Air Force orchestrated a daring long-range medical evacuation from the Carnival Venezia, over 350 nautical miles off the eastern coast of the United States.

Aerial view of a large Carnival Cruise Ship sailing on a blue ocean, with visible wake trails and a helicopter flying nearby.
(Photo courtesy of USAF/920th Rescue Wing)

A Timely Response to an Urgent Call

On the morning of May 4, 2024, the 920th Rescue Wing, the only combat search and rescue wing of the Air Force Reserve Command, received a distress signal from the Carnival Venezia.

The ship was in the middle of its return to Manhattan when a medical emergency unfolded. The patient had a condition that could not be treated on Carnival Venezia and required immediate specialized medical intervention.

Air Force crew in a helicopter observing a Carnival Cruise Ship in the ocean from an open door, wearing helmets and tactical gear.
(Photo courtesy of USAF/920th Rescue Wing)

Typically, a USCG Jayhawk helicopter would be deployed in this situation, but with Venezia so far off the coast, they needed another option. A Coast Guard helicopter’s operational range is around 200 nautical miles.

Understanding the severity of the medical situation, Captain Dylan Gann of the 301st Rescue Squadron and his team quickly acted.

“This is what ready now looks like. These real-world missions are what our countless hours of training have prepared us for. Rescue was able to plan and execute this mission without hesitation. This combined arms team is highly trained in their field while understanding what role they play in the bigger picture and led to the successful completion of the mission,” said Lt. Col. John Lowe, 920th Operations Group commander.

The Complexity of the Rescue Operation

View from an Air Force cockpit showing another military aircraft flying near with a ship in the ocean below, under a clear blue sky.
(Photo courtesy of USAF/920th Rescue Wing)

Organizing a rescue mission of this scale over such a distance involves coordination and skill. Stationed at Patrick Space Force Base in Florida, the team assembled included two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and two HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, alongside highly trained combat rescue officers and pararescuemen.

Left: view of an aircraft carrier's flight deck protruding over the sea. Right: a daring rescue with a helicopter hoisting two people over water.
(Photo courtesy of USAF/920th Rescue Wing)

One of the major challenges they faced was the need for multiple mid-air refuelings. Performing a Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling (HAAR) is no small feat, especially over open water and considerable distances from land.

Overcoming Challenges with Precision

Helicopter on the landing pad of a Carnival Cruise Ship with passengers walking on the deck below.
(Photo courtesy of USAF/920th Rescue Wing)

The rescue operation saw pararescuemen being lowered onto the cruise ship to stabilize and prepare the patient and his mother for evacuation. The team lifted the passengers off the deck of Carnival Venezia. The patient received critical care aboard the helicopter en route to the hospital.

After eight hours and over 1,000 miles flown, the mission was complete when all the aircraft returned to base.

Carnival Venezia returned to New York City and embarked on its next cruise on Monday afternoon.

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