USS Kearsarge, at sea --
Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit rescued a U.S. Air Force pilot downed in Libya March 22.
The F-15E Strike Eagle crashed in northeast Libya March 21 while flying in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the joint coalition enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect the Libyan people from the country’s ruler.
Using two AV/8B Harriers, two MV-22 Ospreys and two CH-53E Super Stallions carrying a quick reaction force, the Camp Lejeune, N.C., based Marines conducted a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission to recover the pilot.
The Marine aircraft began launching off the the USS Kearsarge, which was roughly 130 nautical miles from the pilot - within 30 minutes of the crash - according to a senior Marine officer in the Pentagon.
Marine officials attributed the quick reaction time to the versatility of the Osprey. "Total time from launch to return - 90 minutes roundtrip. That's what an Osprey gets you, that speed," the official said.
According to official reports, the Harrier close air support element dropped two laser-guided 500-pound bombs in the area in support of the downed pilot. One MV-22 Osprey landed and extracted the pilot.
Once extracted, the aircraft returned to the USS Kearsarge with the pilot. Navy Lt. Lauren A. Weber, a doctor with the 26th MEU, said the pilot returned in good condition.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation and the names of the pilots will be released pending next-of-kin notification.
The recovery force remains on standby while aviation assets are conducting operations in any environment. All seven Marine expeditionary units are trained, equipped and ready to conduct similar missions when called upon.