Search and rescue…. one of the Coast Guard’s oldest and most recognizable missions. On an average day, the Coast Guard rescues 13 lives and in 2009 the Coast Guard responded to more than 23,000 SAR cases and saved 4,747 lives.
On Sunday evening, one such SAR case lasted nearly 24 hours, covered about 3,200 square miles, and ended in the successful rescue of six men.
When Sharon McDade called the Coast Guard to report her husband, son and four other men were overdue from a fishing trip off the coast of New Jersey, she was able to provide the necessary information to help Sector Delaware Bay SAR planners put together a coordinated search effort. Aircraft from Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., and Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., along with the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Finback and rescue boat crews from Station Barnegat Light, N.J., began an aggressive search.
By midday Monday, watchstanders had worked with family members to positively identify the voice of one of the fishermen on a vague mayday radio call heard by Sector Southeastern New England. Watchstanders correlated McDade’s overdue boat information with the mayday call to confirm they were looking for the 32-foot boat, Black Magic, with six men onboard.
“We knew we had a genuine case with a good chance of survival,” said Senior Chief Bud Holden, an operations specialist and the Command Duty Officer on watch at Sector Delaware Bay when the initial call came in.
Without knowing what happened to the men and having only a general understanding of where they were planning to fish, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Nearly 24 hours after the search began on one of the last legs of their search pattern, the crew of the HH-6035 rescue helicopter from Air Station Elizabeth City caught the glimmer of a flashing light. As the crew investigated the source of the light, they found it was coming from the Black Magicwith all six men safely onboard. The boat had suffered mechanical problems and drifted about 120 miles east of Atlantic City.
Thanks to the men’s foresight to put together a float plan, a family member’s concerned phone call, the efforts of skilled Coast Guard SAR watchstanders and the cooperation of several Coast Guard rescue assets, the men are were safely rescued.
“The fact that these fishermen told their families where they were going, their route and intended fishing grounds really helped in search efforts,” said Holden. “Not to mention that they stuck with their plan and did not divert to other areas. This information was critical in search planning efforts, ultimately saving the lives of these men.”
CGC Finback, homeported in Cape May, N.J., with the help of the 47307 Motor Life Boat crew from Station Atlantic City, brought the Black Magic and the six men to Station Atlantic City Tuesday afternoon where they were reunited with their families.
While this SAR case ended well, it is still a cautionary tale.
“People running that far off shore need to ensure they have some sort of communication that does not require power, like an EPIRB,” said Holden. “A correctly registered EPIRB provides the Coast Guard with position information and can take the search out of search and rescue.”
To read more about the search, the survivors and to view pictures, click here.