This week we don’t just have one Guardian of the week, we have three. Avionics Electrical Technician First Class Brad Young, Aviation Survival Technician Second Class Mitch Latta and Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Gabe Humphrey, are our Guardians of the Week for showing that Coast Guardsmen are always ready, even when they are not on duty.
This is a story about teamwork, training, and a dose of what some might call luck.
Good friends, the three Guardians were diving at Golden Cove for the first time and had been in the water for about 45 minutes when they saw two people at the edge of a nearby tide pool waving and shouting at them.
At first they thought they were being warned of a shark in the water, both AST3 Gabe Humphrey and AET1 Brad Young told me. They had already seen an 8-foot blue shark in the water so they started swimming for shore, fast.
The two people were blowing a whistle and when the Guardians heard the word “help” across the distance they began to swim even harder towards shore.
That was when they saw a third person, a man, face down in the water. Once they got close enough they could see that he had a purple hue, wasn’t breathing, and there was blood coming from his head. It didn’t look good for the victim. Humphrey dropped the equipment he was carrying and his dive weights and grabbed the man.
Now, I would never say that falling from a small cliff into the Pacific and almost drowning is lucky, but to have three Guardians in the water within distance to reach you and all three of whom specialize in rescuing people from the water? If I were ever to be in need of help I would hope it was as close at hand.
I asked Humphrey what went through his mind when he realized what was happening. He told me at first he was really scared, but then all that training kicked in.
“I never really had a real rescue like that before.” the swimmer who has been in the Coast Guard just over 2 years told me. “I thought I would be way more freaked out.”
Between the three of them they have over 20 years of service, with Humphrey at two, Latta at approximately six and Young at 13. They didn’t panic, they didn’t freak out, and while there might have been a moment of “is this really happening?!?!”, all that training was there and it kicked in.
They swam with the unresponsive man to the rocks near the other two people. The three Guardians used teamwork, holding the man and shedding gear, too get up onto the rocks and out of the water. It was no easy task to get over the slippery kelp and the sharp barnacles and mussels and adding to the difficulty the seas were choppy. So it was not easy going but that is what these guys are trained for, handling the situation no matter what the conditions.
Once they had him ashore they turned him to the recovery position (which is curled up on his side). Once in they did this the survivor began to spit up water and foam. The Guardians checked the man’s pulse and it was there but shallow. They got a blanket from the two people who had originally called for help to cover the survivor in order to keep him warm until help arrived.
While Humphrey and AST2 Mitch Latta were with the survivor, Young ran to the two people on shore asking them to call 911. When they did, another lucky stroke came into play as it turned out Young had grown up in the area so he got on the phone and guided the emergency responders to the location of the group. Once he got off the phone with the 911 operator Young made a second phone call, calling Air Station Los Angeles.
Shortly before the calls for help from the two people on shore, the three divers had seen a Coast Guard HH-65 fly by on a training flight. Young called the Air Station and asked them to divert the flight to assist in the rescue.
EMS assistance arrived onscene and began taking the man’s vitals and preparing to evacuate him, but there was a problem. The trail to where the emergency vehicles waited was very steep and narrow, which could be dangerous for the injured man. Luckily due to the quick thinking of the trio of Guardians there was help just a few minutes away.
The HH-65 arrived. Since the flight had been a training flight there was no rescue swimmer aboard the helo, so the EMT was hoisted in the basket to care for the survivor during the flight. The HH-65 flew the survivor to UCLA Harbor General Hospital where he was transferred to local medical personnel. I don’t have a status to report on the survivor yet, but when he was hoisted his condition had been improving, his pulse was stronger, he was breathing and his color had improved.
So here is to our Guardians of the Week. True heroes aren’t just heroes when they are on duty or in the uniform, they are heroes whenever someone is in need. These three embodied just what Semper Paratus should be.