For families across the country, the summer months signify a slowdown from the quick pace of the school year. Whether lounging by the pool or hiking a nearby trail, summer’s hot days are a time for relaxation and fun.
But for Coast Guard search and rescue crews, the summer months are not about kicking back and relaxing; they’re for kicking it into high gear.
Crews along the North Carolina coast recently showed just how busy a single summer day can be as both boat and air crews worked together to rescue nine mariners in the span of a single watch.
The crew on watch at Air Station Elizabeth City was just settling in for the day when a call came in from a boater suffering a heart attack 20 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras.
Crews aboard a helicopter and airplane from Air Station Elizabeth City launched while a rescue boat was also dispatched from Station Hatteras Inlet joined by two emergency medical services personnel. The rescue boat arrived on scene and transferred the man from his a 25-foot boat onto theirs. This allowed the medical personnel to assess the patient’s condition and provide initial care.
Along with the patient receiving initial care, moving the patient had another benefit for the aircrew – more space. This was key for hoisting the unconscious man safely.
“The Coast Guard boatcrew transferred the man onto their vessel, which provided a better platform for us to conduct our hoist from. This is one of those opportunities where we were actually able to use our training by hoisting from a Coast Guard asset, which we practice all the time but very rarely get to do an operational hoist from,” said Lt. Jeremy Denning, the helicopter crew’s aircraft commander.
Denning and his co-pilot, Lt. PJ Johansen, used the stable platform of their fellow Coast Guard crew to hoist the man into the helicopter and took him to a local medical center where he could receive further treatment.
All in a day’s work, right? Not so fast.
The crew had just enough time to refuel and recharge when an alert came into Sector Hampton Roads command center. It was from an EPIRB, or emergency position-indicating radio beacon. The alert from the beacon, designed to transmit a distress signal to responders, meant someone was in trouble. In this case that “someone” was a boat with eight passengers aboard.
The boat was 50 miles off of Virginia Beach, Va., and had lost all of their electronics. To make matters worse, they were also sinking.
When the aircrew arrived on scene, they lowered their rescue swimmer, Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Cheers and then deployed a pump with the help of the crew’s flight mechanic, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Avery.
“This was the first time that I deployed the swimmer and pump to the water on an actual SAR case,” said Avery. “All of my training prior to this prepared me well and the evolution went seamless. We chose to do an indirect pump delivery using a trail line instead of a direct delivery due to rigging on the stern and all of the passengers located on the bow.”
With the pump operating, Cheers was able to help in dewatering the boat and the boaters made it home safely.
“The summer always increases our workload and brings about different challenges than our winter SAR launches,” said Johansen. “Although SAR in the winter is typically more challenging, it is not uncommon to fly sorties greater than six hours during a summer duty on a single search. The difference on Saturday was we were called upon on three separate occasions and each case presented a new challenge. I was fortunate to have such a great crew and it was rewarding knowing one life was saved and eight others assisted.”