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Two helicopter pilots rescued from sea

ABOARD THE USS HARRY S. TRUMAN IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN—Two civilian helicopter pilots were plucked from the Mediterranean Sea Tuesday, shortly after midnight, after their helicopter was reported missing during a replenishment-at-sea operation.

The USNS Spica, a supply ship, had pulled alongside the Truman, an aircraft carrier with about 5,500 people aboard, and was about to transfer supplies. A Puma helicopter had taken off from the Spica, preparing to lift pallets of food and spare parts to the flight deck of the carrier, when radio operators lost contact with the aircraft about 11:25 p.m. Monday.

The Truman and two nearby ships, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, another carrier, and the USS Winston Churchill, a destroyer, launched Seahawk helicopters that flew to the last known location of the Puma, about six miles astern.

There, they saw strobe lights in the water and found the two missing pilots.

Helicopter crews lowered a swimmer into the water and the pilots were pulled aboard about 45 minutes after they were reported missing.

Both pilots were flown back to the Truman, which has a 51-bed hospital board, where they were treated. One had minor abrasions and the other underwent surgery to close a laceration on his right forearm.

The pilots' names are being withheld pending notification of family members.

The ships are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

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(Sandy Bauers reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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