Rescue swimmer

Rescue swimmer

Though the term rescue swimmer may be applied to any number of water rescue professionals, the term is most often applied to personnel in the Coast Guards, fire and rescue services and military branches. Many Coast Guards train helicopter rescue swimmers and boat based rescue swimmers to enter the water to assist survivors in distress, whereas military rescue swimmers, sometimes referred to as "SAR Wet Crewman" (or CSAR Wet Crewmen), do most of their work from aircraft carriers. The United States Air Force rescue swimmers are called PJs, or Pararescue Jumpers, and perform not only sea based but also land based rescues as well. U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers attracted international attention most recently during the rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana and the surrounding areas. It was reported that in the first five days following Katrina, Coast Guard crews performed more than 36,000 rescue and hoist operations of Katrina victims stranded on rooftops and in flood water. This was reportedly more than the Coast Guard had rescued worldwide in over 50 years. President George W. Bush awarded participating members of the Coast Guard a Presidential Unit Citation and ribbon for their response to Hurricane Katrina.

Rescue swimmers in the media

The release of the 2006 motion picture, "The Guardian", starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, introduced still more people to this small group of elite rescue workers.

A rescue swimmer saves Tom Cruise in "Top Gun". While Katrina brought domestic and international news coverage to Coast Guard rescue swimmers and their crews, their story was first shown on television in a series of specials on Discovery Channel. Along with covering the history and the demanding training rescue swimmers must complete, the specials also feature dramatic on-scene footage of several heroic rescues.


United States of America

United States Navy and Marine Corps rescue swimmer candidates attend the five week long Aviation Rescue Swimmer School in Pensacola, Florida. Navy Surface Rescue Swimmers attend the four week Surface Rescue Swimmer School in Jacksonville, Florida.

The United States Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician (AST)/rescue swimmer school in Elizabeth City, North Carolina is 18 weeks long, along with four required weeks at the Coast Guard's Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in Petaluma, California where ASTs learn to be qualified EMTs. Rescue swimmers at Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, Alaska must maintain EMT II level of proficiency, due to the remoteness of their operational area, and the number of medivacs performed by that unit each year.

The Coast Guard rescue swimmer training program is fairly challenging. Reportedly only 75 Coast Guardsmen attend the school each year, with fewer than half graduating, making an attrition rate quite high, though substantially lower than that of special operations forces, such as Army Ranger and Navy SEAL training programs. There is four to six months screening process at an operational air station prior to attending to AST "A" School. Prospective U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers are physically conditioned to meet certain physical standards. About half of prospective candidates actually make it to AST "A" School. The Coast Guard also holds a one week Advanced Helicopter Rescue school (formerly known as Advanced Helicopter Rescue swimmer School)at Cape Disappointment, Washington which is host to PJ's and Navy Rescue swimmers.

The Coast Guard and Navy are the only branches that allow women to serve as rescue swimmers. However, only three women are presently qualified in the Coast Guard, and women must meet the same physical, endurance and performance standards as men in order to earn a qualification.

The most elite component of America's rescue arsenal are the United States Air Force Pararescue teams. Pararescue is a notoriously rigorous CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) unit, with nine out of every ten candidates failing the indoctrination course. This gives PJs the highest attrition rate of any non-JSOC special forces or conventional unit. PJs are an elite special forces component, engaging in combat search and rescue. They are trained as combatants and paramedics, operating on air, sea, and land and are considered, along with Air Force Combat Controllers, to be the Air Force equivalent to Navy SEALs. During war they rescue downed pilots, special operations troops left behind, and other stranded military men and women. Pararescuemen are also active in peacetime, retrieving NASA space equipment, but also performing rescues in all types of natural disasters, though they get much less recognition for this role. The PJs are often sought out for use by other branches of the military, because of their high-quality training and versatility. For example, Air Force Pararescuemen can be attached to elite units to provide medical support, as they were with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, while other PJ units actually rescued the stranded Rangers.


Most rescue swimmers in Denmark are Danish Air Force personnel from the Danish Transport and Rescue Squadron ("Squadron 722" or in danish "Eskadrille 722"), and operate from Sikorsky S-61A and AgustaWestland EH101 helicopters. These rescue swimmers have to be fully qualified as helicopter technicians before they start a 4 week course at the Danish Frogman Corps, followed by a 2 week first aid/PHTLS course.

Other rescue swimmers are members of the Danish Navy and operate from Westland Lynx Mk. 90B helicopters based on a Thetis-class ocean patrol vessels in the waters around Greenland, Faroe Islands and sometimes also Iceland. These swimmers are generally recruited from the diver-corps (which has a 6-10 weeks diving course from the Danish Navy Diving School) and receive basic helicopter crash survival training.

Finally some coast-based rescue swimmers with high-speed boats are stationed around the coasts of Denmark. These are trained by either the Danish national guard or "The Royal Danish Administration of Navigation and Hydrography" (Danish: "Farvandsvæsnet").

External links

* []
* []
* [ Navy ARSS Information]
* [ USCG AST Job Description]
* [ So Others May Live Book Details]
* [ Rescue Swimmer video of rescue featured in book So Others May Live]
* [ Coast Guard Rescue Specials]

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