Written by Lt. Daniel Beshoar
The Capt. Frank Erickson Award annually recognizes a rotary-wing aircrew that has demonstrated exceptional performance while engaged in search and rescue operations.
This year the Capt. Frank Erickson Award was presented to Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Schrader, Lt. Cmdr. Adam Mullins, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jentzen Green, Petty Officer 1st Class Gregory Mayes and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacqueline Gutierrez, in recognition of their heroic efforts during a medevac of a critically ill crew member aboard the Naval Vessel SBX-1, 1,000 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Upon departing the Coast Guard Cutter John Midgett (WHEC-726), the aircrew was immediately met with difficulties, being forced to fly two sorties over a combined 138 miles to embark the necessary gear and crew onto the John Midgett from Dutch Harbor.
“This case was difficult to plan for because of limited weather information and the lack of landing options that far out at sea,” said Schrader. “The John Midgett crew worked hard to put us in striking distance to the SBX-1 and came up with some creative solutions to give us a better chance.”
With the combination of 977 millibar low pressure system rapidly approaching, and the threat of higher winds and seas, the aircrew conducted extensive mission planning in preparation for the medevac.
The crew utilized all available weather resources, gathered information on the patient’s condition and stripped the aircraft of all non-essential equipment to increase the aircraft’s endurance.
Taking advantage of a short lull between two weather systems, the aircrew launched into 25 mph winds and 10-foot seas, flying the final 105 miles to rendezvous with the SBX-1.
While enroute, the cutter suffered a turbine casualty, slowing their transit and increasing the distance for the aircrew’s return flight. To make matters worse, the aircrew began experiencing winds in excess of 80 mph with 3 miles of visibility – the crew made the decision to land on the Navy vessel to wait out the weather.
After landing on the SBX-1, working to embark the patient while being accosted by high winds and seas, the crew was informed the Navy vessel did not have the necessary tie down gear to secure the helicopter until the weather passed.
Unable to wait out the storm, a rapidly decreasing fuel state forced the crew to make the treacherous transit back to the John Midgett to attempt a landing. Intense winds allowed the aircraft to return to the cutter at over 230 mph ground speed, however, upon arriving on scene the crew was met with 16- to 18-foot waves breaking over the bow of the ship.
The cutter reported that they were at maximum pitch and roll limits, with occasional pitching and rolling exceeding the slope landing limits of the airframe. Concerned about a rollover on deck, the crew made the difficult decision to keep all tie down members off the flight deck for their safety.
“The John Mellon crews had to be creative for us to land,” said Schrader. “For example, despite several malfunctioning ballast system valves, they flooded a forward tank with seawater via fire hoses. This act gave the ship a smoother ride as the seas increased, and provided better opportunities for us to land upon return.”
The aircrew astutely observed the movement of the ship and began their landing attempts. Thwarted twice, the crew remained firm in their resolve and their final attempt was met with success.
After delivering the patient to the awaiting corpsmen, and as seas grew to 26-feet, the crew began a three-hour blade-folding and heavy-weather-traversing evolution to shelter the helicopter in the hangar.
After the helicopter was secured, the cutter transited 414 miles toward Adak for the final leg of the mission.
The helicopter aircrew launched one last time at the edge of the cutter’s wind limitations and successfully transferred the patient to awaiting emergency medical services personnel.
“This Alaska Patrol aircrew and the John Mellon crew came together exceptionally well, and we were able to pick up the patient and get him safely to the care he needed,” said Schrader.
This crew showed never-ending resolve in saving this patient’s life, and they were able to put what was certainly a long and arduous mission behind them.