MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- On May 20, a search and rescue team with Marine Transport Squadron 1 saved a boater who was stranded at sea for three days.
“We were on a training flight and we got a call saying there was a boat in distress,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Woolley, a hospital corpsman with VMR-1. “We immediately cleaned up our gear and headed out to the Atlantic Beach area.”
Approximately three miles off the coast, they saw signal flares from the vessel, a sailboat that had been caught in a storm. Its sails were torn and its engine lay somewhere on the seabed, ripped away by violent waves.
“We flew around the sail boat a few times so we could decide how we wanted to approach it,” Woolley said.
The pilots decided to hover several hundred yards off to the side of the boat to avoid further battering it with the down wash from the helicopter blades. Once in position, the team hoisted a rescue swimmer down into the water.
The crew sent down Lance Cpl. Stephen Benjamin D. Bargar, a rescue swimmer with the squadron, to retrieve the vessel’s lone passenger.
Once in the water, Bargar kicked his way through the surf to retrieve the vessel’s lone passenger.
After swimming close enough to the vessel to establish verbal contact with the survivor, Bargar instructed him to enter the water. Bargar then pulled the survivor clear of the bobbing sailboat and placed him in a rescue basket dangling below the helicopter so that the crew chief, Cpl. Sean J. Cahill, could hoist him into the aircraft hovering 100 feet above.
Once the victim was safely aboard the helicopter, Woolley assessed his injuries. Although he had rationed water, crackers and nuts over the course of the ordeal, the boater suffered from dehydration and heat stroke. He was too weak to stand on his own, said Woolley. According to the survivor, the captain of the vessel had abandoned ship days earlier leaving him aboard to weather the storm in solitude.
The SAR team transported him to Carteret Hospital to be treated.
“He was very thankful,” said Woolley. “He yelled in my ear, ‘Thank you so much, I’m so happy you guys came and saved me.’”
Woolley said it felt good to come to the boater’s aid.
“Missions like this are what we train for,” he said. “We train so much that when a real situation like this happens, our responses are like second nature.”