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Chinese sailors rescued in Pacific, six remain missing

By Euan McKirdy, CNN
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
  • Chinese sailors found floating on life raft by Venezuelan fishing boat after their ship sank
  • 11 rescued, including two who are seriously injured and two who later died
  • Six seamen remain missing
  • U.S. Air Force assisted in the rescue

(CNN) -- A Venezuelan fishing boat has rescued 11 Chinese sailors, including four suffering from severe burns, from a life raft floating in the Pacific Ocean about 1,100 km (684 miles) off the coast of Mexico.

Six sailors from the Chinese vessel remain missing, and two of the rescued men subsequently died from their injuries.

Airmen from an Arizona-based United States Air Force Search and Rescue team assisted in the recovery of two of the seamen, who were critically injured, a spokesperson from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base said Sunday.

The uninjured crew members, along with the bodies of the two deceased, were transferred to a Chinese-flagged vessel which was in the area and are being repatriated.

The Venezuelan vessel radioed a request for assistance late Friday afternoon, and airmen from the 563rd Rescue Group, based in Tucson, Arizona, flew to the location to treat the injured crew, where emergency treatment continued into Sunday aboard the ship.

The team parachuted from an Air Force aircraft after an 11-hour flight to the remote location in the Pacific, approaching the fishing boat on Zodiac inflatables.

The airmen were preparing for the world's largest Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) exercise, codenamed Angel Thunder, when the real-world distress call came through, a 12th Air Force report stated.

"We were preparing for the training exercise when we were notified of what was going on," 1st Lt. Ben Schmidt, 48th Rescue Squadron Combat Rescue Officer was quoted as saying.

"As a Guardian Angel, this is what we are trained and equipped to do, so there is no better way to show our capabilities."

Capt. Susan Harrington, Public Affairs Officer at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, told CNN that the military was hoping to transfer the two injured crew members back to Cabo San Lucas, the nearest landfall in Mexico, on Monday (local time).

"We are prepared to rescue anyone, anytime, anywhere, when tasked by the Air Force," Col. Sean Choquette, 563rd RQG Commander, said. "Our airmen train diligently to execute difficult missions like this one."

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