Coast Guard Helicopter Crew Saves Sailors From Overturned Boat

 

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Coast Guard Helicopter Crew Saves Sailors From Overturned Boat

By
Mike Mitchell
 
 

July 6, 2010 - Coast Guard units from Group Humboldt Bay rescued three sailors who were not wearing life vest from an overturned sailboat 20 miles off the coast of Fort Bragg, Calif., Saturday afternoon. The 32-foot catamaran, Cataylist, was transiting from Crescent City, Calif., to Alameda, Calif., when it suddenly capsized in steep waves. 

At 12:44 p.m., the Coast Guard received an emergency position indicating radio beacon signal from the Cataylist. The beacon, mounted on the sailboat, can be turned on in an emergency to transmit the GPS position, identity of the vessel and other information to a network of satellites orbiting the earth.  The EPIRB showed the Cataylist was approximately 20 miles from the coast of Fort Bragg. The signal from the EPIRB was the only distress signal received by the Coast Guard from the catamaran. 

The Cataylist’s crew reported that in the early morning hours, winds increased to 45 knots and the crew manually activated their EPRIB, believing that their lives were in peril.  Immediately after activating the radio beacon, the boat capsized, pinning the crew beneath its overturned hull.  The crew managed to get out from beneath the vessel and grab onto the hull, spending more than an hour in the frigid Pacific Ocean waters. 

 

The Coast Guard used the registration information from the beacon to contact the family of the vessel’s crew. The family reported the Cataylist crew had left a float plan, which is a description of the boat, number of passengers aboard, a description of the safety equipment aboard, destination and estimated time of arrival.  “The float plan allowed us to confirm information about the vessel, create a better plan and expedite our search,” said Lt. George Suchanek, an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter pilot that responded to the call.

Coast Guard Group Humboldt Bay immediately dispatched a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Station Noyo River in Fort Bragg, Calif., and an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Humboldt Bay in McKinleyville, Calif. The motor lifeboat crew reported seas were 14 to 16 feet and the lifeboat’s transit to the Cataylist was predicted to take an hour because of the conditions.  The helicopter crew reported 35-knot winds.

 

The helicopter arrived on scene first and started following the radio beacon signal from the catamaran’s EPIRB.  The helicopter located the overturned boat, its hull blending in with the white-capped waves, and descended to a hover over the vessel where the crew spotted three people clinging to the hull as waves washed over the boat. “Another key to finding this crew was that they stayed with their vessel.  It is much easier to find a boat, even an overturned boat, in the ocean than an individual person,” said Lt.j.g. Bernie Garrigan, the Dolphin helicopter co-pilot.

With the 47-foot motor lifeboat eight minutes away, the helicopter crew decided to lower it's rescue swimmer, Petty Officer 2nd Class David Foreman, an emergency medical technician, down to the crew of the overturned Cataylist to assess their condition. Foreman entered the water and swam to the catamaran where he noticed that all three sailors were showing signs of hypothermia. He then requested that the helicopter hoist the three survivors into the aircraft for transport to a hospital. The crew of the catamaran were not wearing survival suits or life jackets.

The helicopter hoisted all three sailors and decided to let the motor lifeboat crew pick up the rescue swimmer. With the rescue swimmer safely aboard the motor lifeboat, the helicopter flew to Ukiah Airport and transferred the three sailors to waiting emergency medical services.

The Coast Guard reminds mariners that the maritime environment is extremely dangerous and this case serves as a reminder to wear your life jackets at all times and equip your vessel with the the latest safety gear, including a VHF radio, flares and an emergency radio beacon.  Mariners are recommended to file float plans with loved ones or friends ashore, so someone may provide information about the vessel and their intended voyage timeline to the Coast Guard during emergencies.

“If you ever wanted to hear a story about how important it is to have a registered EPIRB on your vessel and a float plan ashore, look no further than this case.  Without that piece of electronic gear aboard the Cataylist, this would be the story of a maritime disaster, not a story with a happy ending,” said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, a Coast Guard spokesperson. “That EPIRB saved their lives,” said Suchanek.

 

 
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