Yesterday, Coast Guard rescue swimmer Drew Dazzo was awarded the Star of Courage, Canada’s second-highest decoration for bravery, for “acts of conspicuous courage in circumstances of great peril” during an dramatic rescue in 2007. Petty Officer Dazzo is only the third United States citizen to receive the Star of Courage.
On May 7, 2007, during Sub-Tropical Storm Andrea, Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Drew Dazzo and his fellow Air Station Elizabeth City flight crewmembers, CDR Nevada Smith, LT Aaron Nelson, and AMT1 Scott Higgins, rescued three sailors about 150 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
During the night, the sailing vessel Sean Seamour II capsized several times in the storm. The three men onboard – Canadian citizen Rudy Snel, American citizen Jean Pierre de Lutz, and British citizen Ben Tye – were left to battle the turbulent waves and high winds in a life raft until rescuers arrived.
Fortunately, the vessel was carrying an EPIRB, which alerted Coast Guard watchstanders that the mariners were in distress. A C-130 from Air Station Elizabeth City launched to investigate the signal and located the life raft. As CDR Smith and the HH-60 helicopter crew arrived on scene around 10:30 a.m., the decision was made to lower Dazzo, the rescue swimmer, down into the 40- to 50- foot waves and icy cold water to rescue the three men from the life raft.
In a feature story written by Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 2nd Class John D. Miller shortly after the rescue, Dazzo talked about the rescue and the severe weather conditions.
“It was like a washing machine there,” said Dazzo about the swim over to the life raft. “I asked who was hurt most, and they all pointed to a guy huddled in the middle, whose ribs we later found out were broken,” Dazzo recalled. “I got him out first, and then the rest.”
Dazzo further recollected on the challenges of the rescue during an interview with Canada’s National Post.
“You’ve got to get the guy into the basket fast or the water’s going to drop out from underneath you and you’re going to get a whiplash effect. I’d put them into the basket as quickly as I could and, sure enough, when the waves dropped out from under us, it looked like they’d been shot out of a gun as they went up into the air.”
Despite injuring his back during the first rescue, Dazzo continued his rescue efforts and in just over 30 minutes was able to safely rescue all three sailors. Surely, it is a day those three men will never forget and they cannot thank their rescuers enough.
Click here to watch the entire dramatic rescue from the pilot’s perspective on YouTube. You can also listen to an audio interview with the entire flight crew on gCaptain.com here or you can read one of the survivor’s logbook as he recounts the events that dreaded day here.
AST1 Drew Dazzo is still currently assigned to Air Station Elizabeth City and has a decorated Coast Guard career. While he has called this rescue his “most challenging rescue of his 10 years in the Coast Guard,” he has also been involved in several other rescue missions including the dramatic Jan. 2009 rescue near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia. He was also the 2004 Navy Times Coast Guardsman of the Year.
Congratulations Petty Officer Dazzo and the entire flight crew for an amazing rescue.