Francis S. Gabreski ANG Base, NY
30 Oct 1991
30 October 1991: United States Air Force Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 88-26110, call sign “Jolly 110,” assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, headed out into a hurricane that would become known as “The Perfect Storm,” to attempt a rescue 250 miles (400 kilometers) out to sea.
Aboard were Major C. David Ruvola, pilot; Captain Graham Buschor, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant James R. Mioli, flight engineer; and pararescue jumpers Technical Sergeant John Spillane and Technical Sergeant Arden Rick Smith.
Due to the severity of the storm (a weather buoy located 264 miles (425 kilometers) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, reported a wave height of 100.7 feet (30.7 meters) on 30 October—the highest ever recorded in that part of the Atlantic Ocean) the Pave Hawk crew was unable to make the rescue and had to return to their base. Having already refueled from the Lockheed HC-130 Hercules tanker three times during the mission, and with low fuel, a fourth refueling was needed for the helicopter to make it back to the mainland.
Because of the the extreme turbulence and lack of visibility, Jolly 110 could not make contact with the refueling drogue trailing behind the airplane. Major Ruvola made more than 30 attempts, but finally both drogues had been damaged by the severe conditions. With just twenty minutes of fuel remaining, Jolly 110 would have to ditch in the middle of “The Perfect Storm.”
Unable to refuel, Major Ruvola made the decision to ditch the helicopter into the sea while the engines were still running. Finally, at 9:30 p.m. the number one engine flamed out from fuel starvation. Ruvola held the Pave Hawk in a hover over the raging ocean while Buschor, Mioli, Spillane and Smith jumped. When the number two engine flamed out, Ruvola put the Pave Hawk into a hovering autorotation, its blades coming to a sudden stop when they hit the face of an oncoming wave. Ruvola was about 15 feet (4.6 meters) under water by the time he was able to escape from the sinking helicopter.
The Pave Hawk had gone down 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Montauk Point in 100-knot (185 kilometers per hour) winds and 80-foot (130 meter) waves. After five hours in the water, four airmen were rescued by USCGC Tamaroa(WMEC-166), a 48-year-old former U.S. Navy fleet tug, operated by the Coast Guard since the end of World War II as a medium endurance cutter.
The search for Rick Smith continued for a week. He was never found.