According to a press release from the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet, the carrier USS Roosevelt is conducting a Search and Rescue (SAR) effort to recover a lost sailor off the coast of California today. The search was initiated after a lookout reported seeing what appeared to be a person in the water.
The Navy reports that three Search and Rescue Helicopters and a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) were launched to rescue the sailor. According to the release, the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy aircraft, USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), USS Russell (DDG 59), and USS Howard (DDG 83), and USS Charleston (LCS 18) are all part of the rescue effort.
Just hours ago, the sailor was identified as 20-year-old Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Ethan Goolsby, according to a report from Navy Times. According to the sailor’s parents, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was E-2 Goolsby’s first duty assignment. While the missing sailor has been identified, he has not been located.
The Navy Times report also states that a the U.S. 3rd Fleet, to which the USS Roosevelt is assigned, released a statement Thursday night announcing that a sailor was missing from a command-wide muster after a ship lookout spotted a sailor in the water at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
The call of “MAN OVERBOARD!” during peacetime will send the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (CSG) into a flurry of activity. Procedures call for a voice muster of some 6,000 sailors and Marines to try to identify the missing service member. While off-ship rescue efforts are ongoing the entire ship is searched stem to stern, including thousands of compartments aboard the ship in order to find the missing person. The entire Carrier Strike Group will execute a 180-degree turn and take its new course down its own wake. The Lookouts will be doubled or tripled on deck with high powered binoculars trying to spot the missing person.
The search and rescue effort will continue for days until the lost crewmember is recovered alive or dead, or all hope of recovery is lost. Even in calm seas spotting a person in the water can be a very difficult task: rescuers are trying to spot something smaller than a basketball in the water among the shadows of the swells and the whiteness of any chop. The Pacific is also a very cold ocean, with water temperatures that stay in the 52-68 degree range all year. At these temperatures, the person in the water will be incapacitated and unable to aid in their own rescue or die of hypothermia in just a few hours. Once the body’s core temperature reaches 77 degrees, the risk of Spontaneous Ventricular Fibrillation or Cardiac Arrest is very high.
Sailors do receive training in how to survive going overboard but it’s important to remember that falling off the deck (or jumping intentionally) is not like jumping in a swimming pool: The fall from the flight deck to the water is more than 60ft and if you don’t land feet first there’s a considerable risk of injury or even death from just the fall. Once in that cold water, there is a risk of immediate shock and unconsciousness when cold water enters the inner ear. If one manages to survive all that, within minutes a stinging, bone-numbing cold sets in that makes it difficult to even open or close one’s hands; this makes it very difficult for the person to even grab and hold a lifeline. Preserving body heat is of paramount importance to the survivor. Tucking into the H.E.L.P or Heat Escape Lessening Position can assist in preserving that heat. The position involves holding your arms tight against the side of the body with your forearms across your chest and drawing the legs up as close to your chest as possible. In cold water, swimming is not advised as it increases heat loss. Trying to remain close to the wake of the ship is a good idea since the rescue effort will center on the wake’s path.
Accidental drownings are an occupational risk for Navy personnel for reasons that should be obvious. For contextual purposes, the risk of occupational death in the civilian job sector overall is 3.8 deaths per 100,000. In the Navy, the risk of just accidental drownings is 6.8 per 100,000.
We wish the Navy good luck and success in safely recovering its lost crewman and will update this story as more information is released.