WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 2 - Summer 1996

Navy pilot rescues crash survivors

Lt. Carl Lanza '88 became an unexpected hero last January, when a routine flight abruptly turned into a lifesaving mission. He and his crew coordinated the rescue of four survivors of a plane crash near Biloxi, Miss.

Lanza, a naval instructor pilot stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, was returning from a training flight to Florida on Jan. 7, 1996, with his student, Lt. j.g. Kevin Lackie, and Lt. j.g. Lee Boyer, a fellow member of Training Squadron VT-31. While preparing for takeoff from the Gulfport, Miss., airport on an abnormally cold and windy day, the crew overheard ground radio communications regarding a small, twin-engine aircraft that had gone down short of the airfield. Lanza recalls that the controllers were having difficulty getting a police helicopter to the scene.

Lanza immediately radioed the tower to volunteer aid. "Hey, I'm here, I'm ready to go," he told the air traffic controllers, informing them that that he was flying a military aircraft equipped with advanced communications apparatus and Global Positioning System (GPS). The VT-31 crew was asked to take charge of on-site coordination of the search-and-rescue mission. Lanza was cleared for takeoff and given the coordinates of the last known position of the downed Piper Seneca aircraft.

Within 15 minutes Lanza was flying over the trouble spot, surveying the very green, choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with 6- to 10-foot swells and high winds. "I would hate to be in the water on such a cold, windy day," he said. Minutes later, Boyer, who was serving as aerial observer, spotted two survivors struggling in the water, without a raft or flotation devices.

Lanza radioed their location to Gulfport Approach Control. He rapidly directed the the crew of the Captain Moose, a Department of Wildlife and Fisheries vessel, to the crash scene. The Piper's pilot and passengers were successfully recovered and taken to shore. They were then transported to Biloxi Regional Hospital and treated for hypothermia and minor injuries sustained on impact when they landed in the water.

Severe headwinds were blamed for the crash of the Piper Seneca, which was evidently experiencing fuel starvation several hours after it had taken off from St. Petersburg, Fla. Lanza returned to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station and later called to confirm the condition of the survivors. "It sure broke up the monotony," he says of his unexpected Sunday afternoon adventure.

Lanza, who previously was a carrier pilot off the coast of Bosnia in support of Operation Provide Promise, has been an instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi since July 1994. "I have been loving every minute of it," he says. "We train all of the Navy's future P-3 and E-2C pilots as well as some Air Force C-130 pilots and some foreign military pilots too.

I work in my squadron's training department, which means that in addition to flying with our students, I teach our new instructor pilots also. We train about 250 student pilots and 20 instructor pilots annually, which gives me plenty of flight time all over the country."

JKM

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