U.S. team aids hurt Chinese sailors in Pacific

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PHOENIX -- Rescuers from southern Arizona reached and stabilized two critically injured Chinese sailors whose boat sunk in the Pacific Ocean, an official at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base said Sunday.

A Venezuelan fishing boat found the sailors floating in a raft Friday afternoon after their vessel sank off the coast of Mexico, said Sarah Schwennese, spokeswoman at the Tucson base.

She saidthe sailors were badly burned in either a fire or explosion.

It's unclear how many other crew members were aboard the sunken Chinese boat or if there were fatalities.

Airmen from the 563rd Rescue Group parachuted into the water Saturday afternoon and used inflatable boats to reach the Venezuelan vessel, which is 1,100 nautical miles west of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Schwennesen said.

The rescuers treated the sailors, who will be hoisted, along with the U.S. airmen, onto three helicopters Sunday and flown to Cabo San Lucas. The injured pair will then be taken in a different aircraft to a burn unit in San Diego, California, accompanied by the airmen giving them care.

The distance required to reach the sailors has been the most challenging, Schwennesen said. Because of an estimated six-hour flight that included flying over miles of ocean, a refueling aircraft was dispatched from the Arizona Air National Guard in Phoenix.

"The assistance of refueling by the 161st out of Phoenix was critical in providing faster care," Schwennesen said. "They could refuel over the Pacific Ocean rather than fly down to Mexico first."

The Venezuelan boat had sent out a request for help around 5 p.m. Friday, and it was received by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

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