>Saving lives – Fishing vessel

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It started just like any other day. I was ready to deploy to Cold Bay to stand Search & Rescue Standby for the Alaskan King Crab fleet. Walking out of the morning brief I knew it wasn’t going to be like any other day.

We were directed to hop on a C-130 and head to Adak Alaska to search for survivors of the F/V Katmai. Three hours later my crew crawled into an HH-60J Jayhawk and headed to the scene.

Our intention was to get there as quick as possible and get our tasking from D17 over the radio.

Once on scene we relocated the rafts that a C-130 had dropped the night before just to check and see if any survivors had been able to crawl into them.

They were empty.

We then got a radio call that said the F/V Courageous had located a deceased person in a survival suit and we searched the area around them to attempt to locate any more survivors in that area. There were none.

About that time we received our search pattern. It was a 40 nm by 15 nm box. This size box was typically searched by C-130s and is way too large for an H-60 to search. I questioned the validity of this search pattern but the C-130 that was relaying the tasking said that was what District wanted us to search. I reluctantly agreed because I knew there were several other air assets searching along with us and assumed that District really knew what they were doing.

Later I found out that this was the wrong search pattern for us. But that ultimately turned out to be irrelevant.

Punching the search pattern into our navigation computer we started down the first 40 nm leg. Each leg was going to take us approximately 30 minutes to complete. The crew started scanning the miles and miles of open ocean trying to locate anything that didn’t belong.

Halfway down the first leg my Flight Mechanic Jacinto Sabangan said “Sir I have a raft at 3 o’clock”. I told him “Don’t lose it” and banked the helicopter around to get a closer look. Against all odds he had spotted a black raft in the middle of a chaotic steel blue ocean. Getting closer we saw the life line attached to the raft waving in the wind.

All of a sudden that waving life line turned into 4 people waving their arms. We saw 4 faces looking at us and watched them start giving each other hugs and high-fives. There were 4 people alive in that raft!

At that point we set up to recover those people and get them to safety. We deployed the rescue swimmer, AST1 Dave Coats, to the water and he swam over to the raft and evaluated the survivors. He brought one survivor into the water and away from the boat and we moved in to recover the survivor with the basket.

One by one we were able to recover each survivor and finished by recovering our rescue swimmer.

Once all 4 survivors were in the helicopter we cranked the heat and wrapped them in blankets. They were cold and hungry but in otherwise excellent condition. We made the determination that they were not in need of immediate medical care and our time was better spent searching for more survivors.

So we went back to searching and searched for an additional 2 hours before we had to head back to Adak for fuel.

We departed scene and landed in Adak to transfer the survivors to awaiting medical care. All in all we flew for 4 and a half hours and saved 4 lives.

Mission Complete.

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