MH-60 crews train for search and rescue missions

Photo by WAVY/Liz Palka

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The Navy is still investigating two crashes from earlier this month and learned more about the training the search and rescue teams go through.

WAVY News’ Liz Palka spoke with members of the squadron where MH-60 crews conduct their training and search and rescue is a big part of it.

An MH-53E Sea Dragon crashed into the ocean off the coast of Virginia Beach, killing three Sailors. Just a week later, an F/A-18E jet crashed off the coast. A day of training turned into a search and rescue mission, with MH-60s responding to the crash sites.

“Many times every one of our crews that flies is trained, prepared for this mission,” Lt. Andrew McDonald told “It’s so [ingrained] into who we are and what we do in this community, that we’re always ready for it.”

“What we are very good at is remaining over an area, looking for people, being low, slow, being able to identify persons in the water, in the land and then being able to pick them up,” Cmdr. Todd Vandegrift told

“From rescuing people, to protecting ships, to inserting extracting troops, to going in and doing personnel recovery off the land,” Senior Chief Naval Aircrewman Justin Crowe added.

An MH-60 always has two pilots and typically two aircrewmen as well. They can help with medical aid and are even prepared to swim.

“Every mission that the aircraft can do, we’re trained to help execute it,” Crowe said.

These crews face challenges that come with the job.

“The hardest part of any one of these missions is when you come home without accomplishing the mission,” Vandegrift said.

In the case of the MH-53E crash, one pilot was missing for a week before his body was recovered.

“That’s why we train so hard,” Vandegrift said. “So we can walk away. We can fly away from that knowing that we did everything we could. We gave him the best chance, whoever was, and their family the best chance and we tried our best.”

The MH-60 is a versatile aircraft. They do more than just search and rescue at sea and on land also working with special operations, logistics and anti-surface warfare.

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