Air Force rescue team prepares for Balkan missions
March 27, 1999
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- In the countryside outside Albuquerque, the 58th Special Operations Wing trains for the kind of battle conditions it could confront half a world away.
The U.S. Air Force search-and-rescue unit, based at Kirtland Air Force Base, is considered the most sophisticated search and rescue team in the world. The Air Force hopes its services will not be required in the NATO action under way in Yugoslavia.
NATO officials say none of their aircraft have been shot down in four days of raids, despite Serb media claims to the contrary. But if a Western flier should need to be rescued, pararescuers say they're prepared to move quickly.
"If there's an opportunity to get 'em, we're going to get 'em," Air Force Lt. Col. Randy O'Boyle said.
Traveling by helicopter, the Air Force pararescue team can use night vision devices and the cover of darkness to try to get in and recover downed air crews quickly.
The teams are trained in emergency medicine. Rescuers hope to hustle the air crew aboard helicopters and take them away -- with luck, without ever being noticed.
The rescue team says Yugoslavia's rugged terrain could be an asset.
"With all the mountainous areas and forests and things of that nature, it's good for pararescue to operate in," said Master Sgt. Scott Copper. "It provides cover and concealment."
The training can be grueling. It includes dozens of hours in flight simulators, midair refuelings and classes on the latest airborne electronics. The rescuers rely heavily on high-tech sensors to find lost air crews.
"If you have to circumnavigate a threat, you can do that," Col. John Folkerts said. "You don't have to worry about getting lost. Getting from point A to point B is still the name of the game -- and doing it safely."
Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.
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