Coast Guard Dolphins: A critical component of Alaska patrols

Coast Guard Cutter Alex haley MH-65 Dolphin embarked

The 282-foot Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, with an Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter embarked, operates in the Bering Sea off Alaska July 15, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by cutter Alex Haley.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and their embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak are currently underway in the Bering Sea standing a ready search and rescue guard and conducting fisheries enforcement to ensure the safety of mariners in the region and their compliance with federal and state safety and fishing regulations.

“The Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak Alaska Patrol division utilizes the MH-65D Dolphin helicopters and aircrews, deploying aboard cutters to carry out Coast Guard missions to the outer edges of the air station’s 4 million square mile operational area of responsibility,” said Capt. Melissa Rivera, commanding officer, Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak. “They extend the reach of our cutters. ALPAT assets are a force multiplier for fisheries enforcement and search and rescue on the Maritime Boundary Line and throughout the Bering Sea.”

In March 2008 one such crew was credited with saving three fishermens lives when the 189-foot bottom trawler Alaska Ranger foundered and sank in the Bering Sea with 47 people aboard. Ultimately 42 of the men were saved by a combination of Coast Guard helicopters and good Samaritans. During the past year, Air Station Kodiak ALPAT teams have conducted 42 search and rescue cases, saving or assisting 40 lives. One of these daring rescues earned an aircrew the prestigious National Helicopter Association Deployed Aircrew of the Year award.

Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley refuels MH-65 Dolphin

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex haley refuel their embarked Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter July 6, 2013, duirng a patrol in the Bering Sea off Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard phot by cutter Alex Haley.

Despite being from a separate Coast Guard unit, the ALPAT integrates into the crew of the cutter by participating in daily activities outside the scope of flying. In addition to flight operations the current ALPAT crew volunteered to cook and serve the cutter crew an evening meal, included scullery duty, which freed up junior personnel from a night of duty in the galley.

“I went out on deck late last night to watch the ALPAT crew and Alex Haley crew working together during a heavy weather traverse (movement across deck) of the helicopter, mutual respect and teamwork were evident,” said Cmdr. Steve White, commanding officer, Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley. “It’s great to have them on the team and they are doing fantastic, definitely a can-do, will-do crew. They have been a pleasure to work with…safe and efficient!”

During a port call in Dutch Harbor the ALPAT crew worked side by side with the cuttermen to clean up the Revenue Cutter gravesites previously restored by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro in 2012. For over a century, sailors conducting a Bering Sea Patrol made port calls in Dutch Harbor. While there, they tended to the gravesites of the six Revenue Cutter sailors buried on the Aleutian hillside.

Coast Guard cuttermen, aircrew tend Revenue Cutter gravesites

Coast Guard cuttermen from the Alex Haley and aircrewmen from Air Station Kodiak tend Revenue Cutter gravesites in Unalaska, Alaska, July 8, 2013, during a port call. U.S. Coast Guard photo by cutter Alex Haley.

The practice of embarking helicopters with Coast Guard cutters on Alaska patrols has been in place for more than 35 years. Congress passed the Fishery Management and Conservation Act in 1976 to protect living marine resource and Coast Guard patrols contribute to that effort. While Coast Guard Dolphin crews from multiple air stations are deployed on cutters in their respective regions they also stand duty at air stations such as Detroit and Los Angeles. Due to the vastness of Alaska, the ALPAT division at Air Station Kodiak is designed specifically to augment the Coast Guard cutters on their deployments. As the demands on the available airframes at the unit increases with the addition of Arctic-based forward operating locations the Dolphin crews have been called upon to stand duty in Prince William Sound out of Cordova and occasionally conduct search and rescue cases on Kodiak Island.

“The ALPAT mission is unique and different from any other MH-65 air station in the Coast Guard, in that it is overwhelmingly focused on deploying on, and operating off of, Coast Guard cutter flight decks,” said Rivera. “The aircrew and maintenance teams’ professionalism and dedication allow them to conduct safe and effective operations in the remote, harsh and unforgiving Alaska environment.”

Tags: , , , ,