Coast Guard aircrew recognized for 2013 Southeast Alaska rescue

Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter 6038 and the aircrew, clockwise from top left: Lt. Cmdr. James Gibson, Lt. Christopher Enoksen, Petty Officer 3rd Class David White and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Newkirk. The crew was awarded the Admiral Chester R. Bender award for the efforts in a rescue in June 2013.

Coast Guard Air Station Sitka Jayhawk helicopter 6038 and the aircrew, clockwise from top left: Lt. Cmdr. James Gibson, Lt. Christopher Enoksen, Petty Officer 3rd Class David White and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Newkirk. The crew was awarded the Admiral Chester R. Bender award for the efforts in a rescue in June 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Air Station Sitka.

Coast Guard helicopter crews train constantly to perform difficult search and rescue missions that are a part of their daily lives. From extensive, days-long searches, to gripping rescue operations during medical emergencies at sea, nothing is quite routine for our aircrews anywhere in the nation.

The sprawling, wooded islands of Southeast Alaska present a challenge almost unparalleled, as far as search and rescue is concerned. Few cases highlight this so well as the search for a missing airplane in June 2013. The resulting rescue is the reason the Pacific Area Coast Guard Foundation chose to recognize the responding crew for their valiant efforts.

On a Tuesday afternoon, June 4, Coast Guard Sector Juneau command center watchstanders received an alert from an emergency locator transmitter aboard an aircraft. This information, coupled with a reported loss of communications between the pilot and the company that operated the aircraft, led the watchstanders to immediately direct the launch of a helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka.

CG-6038, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, took off from Sitka with Lt. Cmdr. James Gibson and Lt. Christopher Enoksen in the cockpit, and with Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Newkirk, an avionics electrical technician, and Petty Officer 3rd Class David White, an aviation survival technician, as the crewmembers.

The Jayhawk crew arrived in the search area, the location of the beacon’s last broadcast, to join three civilian helicopters already combing the terrain. The thickly wooded area did not make the hunt for the missing aircraft any easier.

“We had received several ELT hits in the area as we hovered low over the trees but there was absolutely no sign of the plane or survivors visible through the thick foliage,” said Gibson. “The plane, for all intensive purposes, disappeared.”

The search finally paid off when the Jayhawk crew saw a lone person through the foliage. They quickly lowered White, the rescue swimmer, to talk to the survivor and assess the situation. Unfortunately, White learned that one of the passengers died in the accident. The aircrew wasted no time hoisting and transporting the 6 survivors to nearby Petersburg for medical attention.

Among the thousands of lives Coast Guardsmen save and assist every year, there are inevitable tragedies. During these challenging situations, training and teamwork kick in to ensure those still in danger are a priority and are brought to safety.

The crew of CG-6038 joins many other Coast Guard men and women recognized by the Coast Guard Foundation for heroic action during 2013. Their devotion to duty in the midst of a challenging search is the continuation of a long tradition for the Coast Guard and its predecessor services, as well as an example for future rescue crews.

“We are honored to be able to provide the needed assistance to the survivors of the crash and humbled by the recognition from the Coast Guard Foundation, who does so much for our fellow Coast Guard members that routinely serve those in need,” said Gibson.

Watch video footage from the rescue.

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