CG AIR STATION CAPE COD -- A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer based on Cape Cod was awarded the distinguished Air Medal Monday for heroic action in the helicopter rescue of a 28-year-old man who had fallen 50 feet while free climbing in Maine last fall.
The rescue on Champlain Mountain in Bar Harbor was conducted in heavy winds, driving rain and descending darkness.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mario Estevane, an aviation survival technician with Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, is trained as a rescue swimmer, so he is far more comfortable performing his job in the water than dangling 700 feet up on the sheer face of a mountain.
"This rescue was unusual," said Estevane after receiving his medal. "I had done some rappelling before, but not on a mountain and not like that."
When the Air Station got the call for help mid-afternoon on Oct. 8, Estevane and the rest of the helicopter crew sprang into action. Under the direction of Cmdr. Steven Jensen, the four members arrived at Champlain Mountain as night was falling and a storm brewing.
Both Estevane and Jensen had recently received some specialized vertical surface training, which helped prepare them for the challenge ahead. Estevane had also previously served as an Air Force firefighter/rescue technician, participating in some litter rescues that required both rappelling and traversing across steep cliff faces.
Estevane initially hoped he could drop down to the ledge where the injured man and a Maine rescue team were waiting, pick up the victim, and together they would be hoisted into the helicopter.
But when he got to the ledge, "the doctor said that was impossible," Estevane said.
The man had suffered compound fractures to his leg and arm and was suffering from blood loss. While the victim had been loaded onto a litter brought by the Maine rescue team, "we came to the conclusion we would have to transfer him to our litter," Estevane said.
That required Estevane to retrieve the 45-pound litter that was lowered by his team from the helicopter. He then made the 150-foot trip to the ledge where the injured man and rangers were waiting, lowering the litter several feet at a time and then using the rope to rappel down the cliff and catch up to it. All the while, he was disconnected from the hoist hook, which was his safety line to the helicopter.
The injured man was then transferred to the second litter, and he and Estevane were brought up by cable to the helicopter.
Fellow crew members -- Jensen, who was the pilot, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Cote, the flight mechanic -- received commendation medals for their roles in the rescue.
Lt. Michelle Simmons, the co-pilot, was presented with the Coast Guard Achievement Medal for taking the helicopter to a nearby athletic field where the victim was picked up by an ambulance.
Rear Adm. Steven Poulin, commander of the First Coast Guard District, Capt. Timothy Tobiasz, Commander of Air Station Cape Cod, and U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., presented the medals.
The Air Medal was created via an executive order by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942 to recognize heroic actions during a flight. The medal is a bronze compass rose with sixteen points. On the medal face is an American eagle swooping downward and clutching a lightning bolt in each talon. About 400 have been awarded during its 75-year history.
The man who fell, Xavier Morin of Quebec, Canada, wrote a letter to the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue team thanking everyone for rescuing him.
"Honestly, it's hard to put into words how grateful I will always be towards everyone involved in saving my life that day," Morin wrote.
Morin wrote that at first he kept reliving the fall over and over again. He then started thinking about how a decision can affect the lives of others, he wrote.
"About how volunteer work, trained professionals and medical staff were essential in saving my life that day," he wrote.
Poulin told Coast Guard members and relatives who attended the ceremony that he used to be "constantly amazed" by the abilities and professionalism at Air Station Cape Cod.
He is no longer amazed, he said.
Poulin said he has come to expect excellence. "And you never disappoint."
This article is written by Christine Legere from Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.