During the holiday season, families across the nation come together to celebrate. From singing carols to opening presents, each family commemorates the holidays with their own special traditions. The duty crew at Air Station Atlantic City celebrated one of the finest Coast Guard traditions this Christmas Eve – the tradition of saving lives.
The Christmas Eve aircrew reported for duty as if it was just like any other day; a day that would end in two lives saved on two separate cases.
Their missions started on Dec. 22, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. when watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore received a call from the friend of a 39-year-old sailor who was overdue. Watchstanders created a search plan to launch rescue crews but their workload soon doubled – a Mayday call was heard over the radio.
The 60-foot, three-masted sailing vessel Lioness was aground with a sailor and his three dogs aboard near Pooles Island, Chesapeake Bay. Lioness began taking on water and a Coast Guard rescue boat from Station St. Inigoes, Md., and the 6507 were launched. The St. Inigoes crew arrived on scene to find the sailboat soft aground, 300 yards from the shore; the Lioness was in an out of shallow water with rocks just below the surface.
Rainstorms were passing through the area with waves cresting at 5 feet and wind gusts up to 35 knots. Rescuing this sailor would require an alert and skillful crew. The 6507 lowered their rescue swimmer, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Dahl, aboard the response boat. With the air temperature under 40, Dahl would be on standby in case the sailor or his dogs would fall into the water during the transfer.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Ramirez, coxswain of the boat, expertly maneuvered around the shoals amidst the swells and winds and the sailor and his dogs were soon safely aboard the rescue boat headed for land.
“As the conditions worsened and the vessel straightened in line with the seas, we took action knowing that was the best chance to get the master and his dogs transferred safely,” said Ramirez.
There was still another sailor who needed help, however. The sailor had been missing for more than 36 hours and after a refuel the 6507 was in the air once again piloted by Lt. James Willingham, aircraft commander, and Lt. Alexander Barker, co-pilot.
The aircrew commenced their search. With the helicopter’s sophisticated suite of electronics to help in the search, one low-tech item proved to be the most valuable – a float plan. The sailor had filed a float plan and his friend was able to share with the Coast Guard where he was supposed to be.
“The float plan was excellent,” recalled Willingham. “We put in the waypoints and we were able to find him along that route.”
The 6507 arrived on scene and found the sailor who had encountered engine troubles and was without food or warm clothing. Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Carty, the flight mechanic, lowered Dahl down to the boat. After it was deemed the survivor was okay to be hoisted, Carty lowered the rescue basket and the 39-year-old sailor was hoisted to safety.
Despite a grueling duty day of flying amid rainstorms and wind gusts, Willingham was quick to point out the team effort of all those involved, particularly the behind-the-scenes work of Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Brady. Brady, an operations specialist, coordinated all of the fueling and restricted air space for the 6507. Without Brady, the crew of 6507 could not have performed the rescues.
“It felt really great to have such a positive impact on two lives, on Christmas Eve of all days, with a highly motivated aircrew, many of whom had volunteered for this Christmas Eve duty,” said Willingham.
In the end, due to the skill, vigilance and teamwork of Coast Guard crews, two men were safe. The crew of the 6507 and fellow responders gave the best gift of all to these sailors – the gift of being home and safe on Christmas Eve.