Hurricane Irene may have happened in the summer of 2011, but the storm’s impact continues to affect maritime communities; the hurricane’s winds destroyed more than 500 aids to navigation in the mid-Atlantic region alone.
With the aids playing a critical role for boat traffic along mid-Atlantic waterways, Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Teams – or ANTs – got to work in the aftermath of the storm.
Aids to navigation may seem simple enough, but they play a significant role along waterways, providing boaters with the same type of information drivers get from street signs, stop signs and traffic lights. Each aid, whether it is a day marker or fog signal, has a purpose and helps in determining location, getting from one place to another or staying out of danger.
“Aids to navigation on our waterways play an essential role in the safe navigation for both commercial and recreational mariners,” said Chief Petty Officer Aric Deuel, officer in charge of the Aids to Navigation Team Chincoteague.
As each navigation team got to work placing aids in their rightful position and repairing damaged ones, there were a few that turned out to be a bit more challenging.
One of these aids was at the tip of the Ocean City Inlet Jetty in Maryland. The aid, destroyed by Irene, was 20 feet. Not to mention it weighed 3,500 pounds. This aid brought on a whole new set of challenges and Aids to Navigation Team Chincoteague needed help.
It was a perfect mission for Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C.
Cmdr. Sean Cross, executive officer at Air Station Elizabeth City, knew the 6,000-pound hoisting capability of his aircraft and didn’t hesitate to support the mission. Or as he puts it, “Have hook. Will travel. Call us.”
Coast Guard helicopters and their crews continually hone their skills in hoisting. Whether it is a family of four lost at sea, or a pump for a boat taking on water, aircrews must learn how to handle different loads at the end of the helicopter’s hoisting hook.
The aircrews call it “external load operations” and it is a skill set pilots and aircrews routinely train for. This time, however, the helicopter would not be required to lift a pump for a search and rescue mission, but instead would need to haul a 3,500-pound tower.
“We practice this mission a couple times a month and rarely do we get to do an actual mission. We usually use a block or a telephone pole to challenge our crews and try to simulate an actual mission,” said Lt. Jeremy Denning, a pilot in the operations department at Air Station Elizabeth City.
Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Keithly and Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Larouche decided to make the very most of this rare mission and turned it into a teaching moment for the junior members at the air station.
“The opportunity for these junior aircrew to brief, rig the load and fly the mission was extremely valuable to our unit readiness as well as their personal professional development,” said Keithly.
Keithly, alongside other senior aircrew members, prepared junior members at the air station for future missions, but also gained new perspectives himself.
“From a personal standpoint, it is always a great pleasure working with the other elements of our service. From the planning stages through mission execution it was very clear how all parties involved take their jobs seriously and strive to bring their best to each and every mission,” said Keithly.
The mission was a success and the tower now stands in position to safeguard mariners as they enter the inlet. The tower also serves as a constant reminder for those involved in the operation of how, with a little teamwork and ingenuity, you can overcome any challenge.