ITALIAN AIR FORCE 15th WING: SAVING LIVES FROM HEAVEN

Report of a day spent with the personnel of 15th Wing, specialized in the Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.


The emotion is so big, the adrenalin runs and the mission begins!
At the gate of Cervia Air Base, home of Italian Air Force 15th Wing, I've meet the pilot Lieutenant Simone Agostinelli and after routine checks we came to the bar for a coffee. There we met the pilot Wing Commander Colonel Giuseppe Massimetti: a genuine and hospitable person, who knows make you comfortable.

Together we headed into his office: the walls are hung with paintings and awards received by the Wing, including the recently received at HeliExpo 2016 in the United States for the recovery of people on Norman Atlantic. Everything speaks of the Wing which to date has rescued about 7,200 people in life threatening.
Before leaving, the commander told me a bit of the Wing history and new aircraft supplied.

I discussed the details with Lieutenant Agostinelli lending itself to answer some of my questions:

Lieutenant, first of all thanks for your time. Your squadron performs a very important function for the rescue of people in distress. What are your duties?
"The mission of the squadron is the Search and Rescue (SAR) crews of military aircraft on the national territory and in international waters. Contributing to the relief efforts for the safeguarding of human life for the benefit of the national and international community also. "

And in case of conflict?
"Recover the crews of military aircraft shot down or damaged and support to special operations."

What is the composition of the flight crew for a SAR mission?
"The standard crew for a SAR missions consists of two pilots, a rescue swimmer and an on-board operator. If necessary we can take on board a medical assistant also "

How to become pilots of the 15th Wing?
"Until a few years ago the process was the same as fighter pilots: at the end of the course took place the transition to helicopter. Now the specialization between fighter jet, transport plane and helicopter, take place around in the middle of course. "


And How to become a rescue swimmer?
"By a qualification course of about 8 months that provides the theoretical and practical training through the conduct of 4 basic parts. The theoretical part is focused mainly on first aid, crucial to keep alive a traumatized. The rescuer must be experienced survival experts in mountainous and maritime territory. "

The rescue swimmer should perform physical workouts?
"It's necessary that the professional profile of the rescue swimmer to maintain a high standard level in all the fields when it's called to operate. Precisely for this reason there are minimum instructional annually are required to maintain such capabilities such as swimming, self defense, mountaineering, telecommunications, armament, Basic Life Support, diver and many others."

What are the group's reaction times?
"The SAR alarm is guaranteed throughout the national territory 24/24, 365 days a year. Usually the readiness is 120 minutes, but in special cases we can go down to 15 minutes. "

Operates in all weather conditions?
"The Italian Air Force is the only organization of our country entitled to the night rescue operations thanks to night vision goggles (NVG) that allow us to operate at night and day without limits."

All squadrons are equipped with the new HH-139 helicopters, took over to the old HH-3F "Pelikan" in 2012. Which is the difference between the two aircraft?
"The HH-3F had a greater cargo capacity, but the HH-139 advanced avionics allows better planning and flight management in all the phases."

In what disasters you recently attended?
"In recent years the most significant event in which the Wing took part was definitely the work on the Norman Atlantic during which were rescued 56 passengers from the ferry (note: work in particularly adverse weather conditions and for the which he has received several awards)."

At the end of the interview it's time to get ready to go in flight, the mission was divided in two phases:

1) Search and recovery of a dispersed on an oil rig off the coast of the Adriatic Sea


2) The same activities on the snowy mountain tops.


The recovery action was carried out by rescue swimmer, men ready to intervene in any context, even to rescue human lives. His role is to climb a rope from the helicopter to the affected area to recover the missing or injured by restoring order and balance in case of panic.

Helicopters after returning from a mission to the sea are washed to remove the salt.


Following a 15th Wing activity you can not miss the great synergy and professionalism of the entire crew, the precision of the pilots and skills of the rescuer, the result not only of high preparation, but also passion and sense of duty.
The same passion that I have received during the words exchanged with the Wing Commander
Pilot Colonel Giuseppe Massimetti: his eyes shone as he spoke of the 15th Wing and his men, a humble person, full of passion, difficult to find nowadays.

Text and Pics: Matteo Sanzani
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