MIAMI – The crew of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey vessel recently assigned to look for oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico turned into heroes Saturday night, rescuing a pilot whose plane crashed in the dark waters off Key West.
The crew of the high-tech, 208-foot Thomas Jefferson heard an “urgent marine information broadcast” about 9 p.m. from the U.S. Coast Guard in Key West alerting ships in the area of a downed Cessna 172 Skyhawk, which had been en route there from Bartow, Fla. The Thomas Jefferson, based out of Norfolk, Va., stopped its surveying duties and headed toward the crash area, some 30 miles away from its location, the Coast Guard said.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, lookouts on the Thomas Jefferson spotted the pilot – the only passenger aboard the downed Cessna.
“Thomas Jefferson’s crew found the pilot swimming alone, having drifted about two miles from the reported crash site,” said NOAA Cmdr. Shepard M. Smith, the ship’s commanding officer.
“We initially heard his voice calling for help, and then saw him in our searchlights waving the white checkoff list he had found after the crash,” Smith said in a Coast Guard press release. “We are very pleased to have been able to help avert a real tragedy.”
The pilot’s name has not been released.
The Thomas Jefferson pulled the pilot out of the water, then helped transfer him to a 45-foot Coast Guard response boat, which delivered him to emergency workers waiting ashore in Key West.
In June, the Thomas Jefferson, which carries equipment that allows it to examine deep waters, sailed out from New Orleans carrying a group of NOAA officers and experts from federal agencies, universities and research institutions to verify if miles-long oil plumes now exist in the Gulf.
It’s unclear if the Thomas Jefferson was still doing work related to the spill and the oil plumes on Saturday.