PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE --
Airmen from throughout the 920th Rescue Wing here remember the legacy of one of their own today, 15 years later.
On Dec. 7, 2001, Staff Sgt. Douglas L. Eccleston died while performing his duties rescuing a sailor off the coast of Bermuda.
During a mission to save a critically-ill crewman of the 600-foot supertanker Alma Belia, Eccleston's inflatable boat capsized, killing him. Due to Eccleston's heroic actions, the sailor’s life was saved.
Eccleston was a member of the elite pararescue team assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base. He honorably served his country for 15 years. This service included military action in Panama and during Operation Desert Storm.
"Doug was one of my teammates and a solid PJ," said Retired Chief Master Sgt. Doug Kestranek, 920th RQW pararescueman. He always volunteered for the tough assignments and wasn't afraid to get dirty. Make no mistake, he is missed."
Eccleston will always be remembered by those who knew him as a fun-loving, caring man.
The wing's parachute-rigging facility was officially designated as the Eccleston Pararescue Facility in 2009. Eccleston lived and died by the honorable pararescue motto, "That others may live."
Pararescuemen, also known as PJs, are the only Department of Defense elite combat forces specifically organized, trained, equipped, and postured to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery to include both conventional and unconventional combat rescue operations. PJs participate in search and rescue, combat search and rescue, recovery support for NASA and conduct other operations as appropriate.
The following article is reprinted from a 2009 edition of “The Angel’s Wings”, Titled, “The Last Full Measure” by the 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs Office
Staff Sgt. Doug Eccleston was killed Dec. 7, 2001, during a rescue mission off Bermuda when his inflatable raft capsized while de-boarding a 600-foot supertanker, the Alam Belia, where he and a 920yh pararescue team treated a critically-ill crewman.
Sergeant Eccleston and eight others left Patrick AFB Dec. 7 on an HC-130P/N King fixed-wing refueling aircraft piloted by wing Airmen headed for the Alam Belia approximately 200 miles southeast of Bermuda. The wing had been asked to send a team of pararescueman to provide medical attention for the Philippine sailor who became critically ill onboard the tanker.
After parachuting from the aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean, Sergeant Eccleston and two other PJs inflated a Zodiac boat, sped to the tanker and climbed a ladder to board the vessel while a tanker crane hoisted their Zodiac onto the deck.
The three PJs were able to stabilize the ill crewman and remain by his said to Bermuda where he was then transferred to an onshore hospital.
After completing their mission, Tech. Sgt. Mitch Vance and then Tech. Sgt. Mike Ziegler (now Chief Master Sgt.), prepared the Zodiac for the trip ashore, however as the crane lowered their inflatable boat to the ocean, it flipped-throwing both men into the water.
Sergeant Vance surfaced almost immediately and sustained no serious injuries, but it took rescuers three hours to find Sergeant Eccleston.
Before going on the mission that would take his life, Eccleston called his wife Stacie to tell her how excited he was that he was about to experience his first rescue jump.
“I’ll cherish that phone call forever,” she said. “He called me on the phone and told me, ‘There’s a guy dying out there. I’m going to save him Stacie. I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ll see you soon.’ That was the last time I heard from him.”
Ziegler and Eccleston had been friends since the two entered the Air Force together 15 years earlier. The two friends spoke briefly on the deck of the Alam Belia shortly before the fatal accident.
“We just stood there on the tank, and I said, ‘Damn due, who would’ve ever through we’d be here together saving lives,” said Ziegler. “We slapped knuckles and both said, ‘I love you bro.’ Then, as quick as you can count to five, it was all over.”