“I was doing my job”; the words of Seaman Darren McLaughlin after he spotted four survivors clinging to debris in the water for more than a dozen hours.
The rescue mission all started when the Coast Guard received report of a good Samaritan sailing vessel on scene with a 50-foot fishing vessel engulfed in flames. The Coast Guard diverted multiple surface and air assets, including Coast Guard Cutter Confidence, to the location to search for any survivors.
Confidence arrived on scene about 40 miles north of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, where there had been a report of the fire 12 hours earlier. There were two other good Samaritan vessels on scene throughout the day and multiple Coast Guard air assets, but no one had seen the survivors.
McLaughlin was the lookout aboard Confidence when they got to the scene.
“Initially, I did not think that there was any chance we would find [survivors],” said McLaughlin. “I knew that they had been in the water for about 13 hours at that point.”
Despite all odds, about 30 minutes after Confidence arrived on scene, McLaughlin spotted four people clinging to debris and trying to wave down the ship with a small cooler.
“I was just doing slow scans. I saw a bunch of debris so I slowed my scans down and I saw bright colors amidst the debris and I knew that was irregular. It looked out of place and it was moving, so I knew immediately that it was something. Then as we got a little closer, you could make out people.”
When asked how he felt after spotting the survivors in the water, McLaughlin said, “Ecstatic.” Laughing and remembering the feeling, he continued, “I felt awesome. That whole watch I was thinking about how I couldn’t imagine being out here just drifting around for 13 hours, you know, hopeless.”
“It was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he added. “I felt like I had accomplished something; like I had done my part for the day.”
Due to McLaughlin’s excellent observation and dedication to duty on lookout, four survivors were spotted and rescued by the cutter’s crew. Upon pulling the survivors out of the water, the survivors informed the crew there was one more missing person who separated from the group in an attempt to swim after a passing vessel. The fifth survivor was located about 45 minutes later by an Air Station Miami HC-144 airplane and picked up by Confidence’s smallboat. Due to medical concerns, all five survivors were hoisted by an Air Station Clearwater Jayhawk helicopter and safely transported to the Dominican Republic. McLaughlin doesn’t consider himself a hero for being such a crucial part of the search and rescue mission. “I feel like I was doing my job. At the time, I felt pretty dang good, but a hero? I wouldn’t go that far.” Although, he did add, “The feeling at the time was unlike any other feeling I’ve ever had.”