A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber turned from a strategic bomber into a search and rescue aircraft on June 25 off the coast of Guam.
Capt. Sean Simpson, 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron aircraft commander, was with his crew when they received the call from the Coast Guard asking for assistance, the Department of Defense reports. The crew, stationed in Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, crew was operating out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
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A Pacific island-style canoe with six people aboard had been missing since July 19 with only enough provisions for the expected one-day trip.
"This was a unique situation for us," Simpson said. "It’s not every day the B-52 gets called for a search and rescue."
An additional challenge was that the crew was not familiar with this style of canoe and therefore didn't know what to look for.
"We’d never heard of this kind of vessel before," Simpson said. "We knew this was going to be a challenge."
"We asked for more details about the vessel and the dispatcher told us, ‘It’s just like the boat from ‘Moana,’" Simpson said referring to the Disney movie which involves a Pacific island-style canoe.
From 19,000 feet up in the air and after more than three hours of searching, the crew of the B-52 found the canoe. The B-52 crew contacted the Coast Guard which was able to ask a nearby civilian ship to assist.
The islanders did not want to lose their canoe because it is a very important part of their culture and heritage, but they did take some food, water, and directions. They were able to bring themselves safely to land.
The B-52 is a strategic bomber, able to carry nuclear weapons. B-52s have been in service since the 1950s are expected to continue to have a place in the Air Force for years to come.