The Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS) held its annual award ceremony Thursday, and Aviation Survival Technician First Class Salvador “Pepe” Carire, who risked his life to save a fisherman at sea, was awarded the AFRAS Gold Medal for his heroic actions.
On the night of December 23, 2009, the 38-foot fishing vessel Alisha Marie was off the coast of New Jersey when it was hit by a rogue wave. The waves continued to beat against the Alisha Marie, and tragically, as she slipped further beneath the waves, she took two men with her.
The lone survivor of the incident, wearing only a t-shirt and shorts, escaped the vessel’s wreckage and climbed into a life raft, which had automatically inflated when the vessel became submerged.
The Coast Guard received Alisha Marie’s emergency position indicating radio beacon distress signal and launched rescue resources.
The 6559, an MH-65C Dolphin Helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City, was the second helicopter to take off in search of survivors from the Alisha Marie. The aircrew received a report from the first helicopter that there was a debris field 36 miles southeast of Barnegat Light, New Jersey.
The helicopter, with Carire on board as the rescue swimmer, head into the stormy night and encountered treacherous conditions of poor visibility, high winds and tumultuous seas.
As the helicopter neared its limit of fuel endurance, Carire inexplicably noticed a faint flashing light in the water outside of the debris field. The pilots hovered over the faint glow as Carire plunged into the frigid 39-degree water.
Carire swam to the life raft, which would intermittently disappear due to the six-foot waves. Once at the raft, he realized that he could not access the inside because it was overturned.
Carire attempted several times to right the raft, fighting with the howling winds and seas. Each time he climbed atop the raft he was knocked off but he fought his way back. As he struggled to again climb atop the canopy of the raft, he felt something hit his leg.
He knew there was a survivor, and he knew he had to get inside.
Because Carire was wearing his dry suit with gloves, grabbing the jammed zipper to access the life raft was an impossible task.
“I used my hands to rip into the raft with a small opening I found,” said Carire. “As I widened the opening, I saw the survivor and continued to rip the canopy open.”
Carire ripped into the raft that cocooned a barely conscious, hypothermic survivor. With the 280-pound man in tow, Carire signaled the 6559 to lower the rescue basket. Carire stayed in the water, experiencing early stages of hypothermia himself, as the aircrew raised the fisherman safely into the aircraft and returned to hoist him. Once inside the aircraft, Carire used his medical training to treat the survivor and keep him conscious.
There are no doubts that Carire exhibited extraordinary courage as he risked his life for the fisherman the night the Alisha Marie was taken by the sea. And as night gave way to morning, on the eve of a holiday, the sole survivor of the Alisha Marie was given the gift of life.
Next week, the Compass will feature the AFRAS Silver medal award winner from the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Stay tuned!
Do you know a Coastie that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit link on the right.