Coast Guard in Action

We covered the loss of the replica HMS Bounty off Hatteras, and mentioned — just in passing — the Coast Guard rescue of 14 crew and passengers from the tall ship. This video by the Coast Guard is, essentially, a highlights reel of the helicopter (HH-60) rescue of those shipwrecked sailors at sea. There is no sign of the tall ship in this video — as it opens, she sleeps with the fishes, and the survivors huddle in storm-tossed life rafts. Conditions are poor, and you can hear the exhaustion in the crew chief’s voice — and he’s just running the winch. Imagine how the rescue swimmer feels.

We believe the rescue swimmer you see here is Daniel Todd. Todd told Coast Guard superiors that  this is what he said when he arrived at the raft: “Hey, how are you all doing? I hear you need a ride.” Nothing like a little humor to defuse a tense situation.

There are a few terms on the tape that may need clarification. PIW is “Person in the water” — not the swimmer but the rescuee. “Mark” is a laser mark provided by the orbiting C-130. You can sometimes see the red laser mark, but you can’t see the plane. The female voice that periodically says “altitude, altitude” is a digital warning keyed to the radar altimeter, which is detecting the rising swells under the helicopter. Swells seem to have been 10-15 feet. You can see an altitude readout on some of the video: 20 to 39 feet. contact with the water would be fatal for the helicopter, and probably for at least some of the crew (it’s happened before).

After initially drafting this post, we found this USCG photo of HMS Bounty’s last moments. Without these aircrews, the loss of life might have been much greater.

The exhaustion of the survivors is apparent, both when they can barely roll out of the rescue basket in the back of the H-60, and when they dismount the copter on dry land. The adrenaline cycle, as everyone who’s been scared witless can tell you, is extremely enervating.

The life rafts did their job, but they don’t seem to have performed to spec, or perhaps the howling cyclone was beyond their design parameters. For the Coast Guard, a job very well done. For the sailors, living proof that it is better to be lucky than to be good.

Quite amazing, that someone can do something unnecessary and, frankly, stupid, like tackle a monster hurricane with an 18th-Century sailing vessel, and still our society has put mechanisms in place, and staffed these systems with incredibly talented and dedicated people, to pull his chestnuts out of the fire, and rob King Neptune of a sacrifice that was probably already booked on His Highness’s watery accounts.

2 thoughts on “Coast Guard in Action

  1. Medic09

    Not only competence. Those SAR guys are some of the bravest, most tenacious folks anywhere.

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