Graham, Bell want search and rescue back in area

Two state legislators aren’t looking for votes for Pedro, but they do seek support.

Rep. George Graham, D-Lenoir, said at the Wake Up Lenoir event that he and House Majority Whip John Bell, R-Wayne, are working to bring the Marine Corps search and rescue unit back after federal budget cuts shuttered the program at Cherry Point in September.

“We’re trying to get search and rescue back in Eastern North Carolina,” Graham said. “You know, we lost that. And that’s critical for our eastern coast, that we get that. We’re working together – we’ve got a panel of individuals from both the House and the Senate, Republican and Democrat, working, and John and I are pretty much heading up that committee.”

Bell said Pedro was an invaluable service, especially considering water rescues and taking into account state budget cuts that ended the State Highway Patrol Air Wing hangar at the Global TransPark in 2013.

“They provided a lot of search and rescue – especially water search and rescue – and was really a wonderful partnership with the local community and the surrounding community,” Bell said.

He later added, “So, George and I have been working with a number of folks to try to see what we can do, because the problem we run into is now any of those search and rescue operations will have to come out of Elizabeth City, from the Coast Guard.”

The Pedro unit, comprised of Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters converted into HH-46E search and rescue variants, rescued nearly 400 people in three days during the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and performed 32 missions – half of which on behalf of civilian agencies – in 2014.

The Navy adopted the term Pedro for search and rescue craft in the 1950s, and the unit at Cherry Point went into service in 1957. The choppers took their final flights on Sept. 25 at Cherry Point and have been parked outside the Fleet Readiness Center East engineering building.

Continuing maintenance of the aging fleet of helicopters as well as budget cuts brought on through sequestration were cited as the reasons behind the end to the Pedro search and rescue missions at Cherry Point.

Wes Wolfe is a reporter for the Kinston Free Press.