Atlantic Ocean Rescue
The John F. Leavitt, the first American commercial sailing vessel built in 40 years, was on its maiden voyage to Haiti with a cargo of lumber when it encountered heavy seas some 280 miles off the coast of Long Island. Battered by 20-foot waves, the cargo broke loose and damaged the hull of the ship. The crew managed to keep the ship afloat for 24 hours until the morning of Dec. 27, 1979, when the captain radioed for assistance. Two HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters and an HC-130 Hercules from the 106th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group, New York Air National Guard, were dispatched for this mission. Preceded by the HC-130, the helicopters arrived to find that the ship's 80-foot masts precluded hoisting the crew from the deck. Two pararescuemen, Tech. Sgts. Jay Junks and Paul Bellissimo, jumped from the helicopters into the water and boarded the ship to direct the rescue operation. In the last few minutes of daylight, the nine crewmen and the two Guardsmen boarded life rafts and were then hoisted aboard the waiting helicopters. The Air National Guardsmen of the 106th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group added yet another chapter to the annals of peacetime heroism by performing a service to their fellow citizens.