The fishing vessel Double Eagle was passing through the bar at Tillamook Bay, Ore., when it was hit broadside by a 16-foot plunging break. In the blink of an eye the vessel capsized and split in half. As two fishermen’s lives hung on the line between the agitated surf and rocks, a Coast Guard rescue boat from Tillamook Bay was just around the corner.
The crew of CG47254 was on standby for the fishing vessel as it crossed the bar and witnessed the superstructure as it tore away from the hull. The two fishermen aboard were forced under water by the surf, and the boat crew scanned the churning waters in hopes of any sign of life.
Resurfacing within feet from the south jetty was the captain of the vessel, while the other fisherman surfaced wedged inside the surf zone.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Conor Bennett, the rescue boat’s surfman, focused on keeping his own crew safe while maneuvering the boat to reach the fishermen. This was easier said than done however, as the submerged south jetty is one of the most dangerous areas on the bar with 300 yards of submerged rock and continuous breaking seas.
The jagged jetty surrounding Bennett was not of concern however, and he knew he could keep his crew protected with his simple formula, “Stay out of the plunging surf, and you stay out of the rocks.”
With the rescue boat in place, just feet from the rocks, a life ring was tossed to the captain of the vessel. With an eye on the other fisherman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Karas threw out a rescue line as a wall of frothing water smashed and dragged the fisherman underwater. Karas was this fisherman’s literal lifeline and he held onto the line despite the force of the wave as it carried the fisherman 30 feet through the surf.
With the help of Fireman Michael Callahan and Seaman Austin Bartosz the fisherman was pulled out of the surf and into the rescue boat.
The 47254 crew credit the rescue to teamwork and training. In fact, they were out in the surf for the first time that year on a training exercise becoming familiar with the dangerous seas that come with the change of seasons. While they call it teamwork and training, others may call it bravery and sacrifice.
“In boot camp the company commanders told me within the next year I would be responsible for saving someone’s life,” said Bartosz, who was in surf conditions for the first time the day of the rescue. “I didn’t really believe it at the time, but that was probably the most amazing feeling I ever felt.”
“I joined the Coast Guard to do search and rescue so it was a very gratifying feeling,” added Karas. “We were just doing our jobs out there.”
At the heart of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue mission are the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for others. The legacy of lifesaving has been passed on to the Coast Guard as generations of crews continues to save lives in the most impossible of circumstances. Thanks to the crew of CG47254, this legacy lives on.