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Sitka aircrew receives national award for rescue heroism


September 05, 2003
Friday - 12:30 am

A Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter crew will receive a Coast Guard Foundation award for heroism during an October 2002, rescue case.

Lt. Cmdr. Mark Reynolds, pilot; Cmdr. Scott Pollock, co-pilot; Aviation Mechanic Technician 3rd Class Edmond Cumplido, flight mechanic; Aviation Survival Technician Chief Schoenwether, rescue swimmer; and Cmdr. Russ Bowman, flight surgeon, will receive their award at the Coast Guard Foundation's annual "Salute to the Coast Guard" ceremony Oct. 16 at the Marriott Marquee in New York City.

The aircrew responded Oct. 28, 2002, to a request for a medevac of a crewman who had been stabbed multiple times by another crewman aboard the bulk carrier Princess Arial about 200 miles southwest of Sitka.

During this mission, the rescue crew overcame poor air-to-ground communications, deteriorating weather, demanding on-scene hoist conditions and language barriers with the vessel's crew during this long-range, lifesaving mission. "Despite these immense challenges, the crew executed an impressive 'pinpoint-accurate,' radar-assisted rendezvous with the vessel after a long and physically grueling transit," according to the nomination package submitted to the award committee.

Once on-scene, the crew found the vessel pitching and rolling in 20-foot seas, exacerbated by patchy fog, 40mph crosswinds and driving rain. Because of the poor communications during the transit, the aircrew did not know the patient's current medical status. The crew quickly recognized an urgent need to deploy the helicopter's rescue swimmer to the vessel to better assess the patient's condition.

With few options available because of the cluttered cargo deck and superstructure, the bridge wing was chosen as the safest point to deliver the rescue swimmer, however, this initial attempt was aborted as the violent motions of the ship nearly caused Schoenwether and the hoist cable to become entangled in the ship's swaying mast and antenna array. With the vessel rolling in the turbulent waters and unable to safely alter course in the churning seas, the aircrew was left with no other option but to hoist Schoenwether to an extremely narrow gap between the ship's superstructure and a nearby, 80-foot tall deck crane.

Reynolds and Cumplido maneuvered the helicopter into position to deliver Schoenwether to the deck and maintained this position for another 25 minutes while delivering rescue equipment to the deck. Despite the physical exertion and challenges of hoisting in a near freezing wind chill while manhandling about 120-feet of hoist cable wildly gyrating in the turbulent air, Cumplido focused on maintaining safe rotor clearances while delivering Schoenwether and the equipment to the pitching and rolling deck. During this delivery sequence, Pollock provided crucially needed safety inputs as the aircraft was continuously buffeted by moderate turbulence, generated by the 40mph winds that threatened to force the helicopter into nearby obstacles. As nightfall approached, Pollock's inputs were even more critical as Reynolds began to lose visual reference with the hoist location during two hoists of the rescue swimmer and the critically injured patient.

With the patient safely aboard the helicopter, Bowman and Schoenwether overcame a significant language barrier while assessing the patient's condition, triaging his multiple and severe knife wounds, staunching the blood loss, and establishing lifesaving IV therapy. Throughout the 90 minute transit to Sitka, Bowman and Schoenwether busily worked inside the cramped helicopter cabin to stabilized the patient, as well as passing on crucially needed updates on the patient's medical condition.

After flying more than four hours, hovering for 50 minutes in vertigo-inducing conditions, and transiting about 420 air miles in brutal, unrelenting weather, the exhausted crew safely executed a low-visibility approach through Sitka Sound's mountain-ringed entrance and landed in pitch-black darkness at Air Station Sitka where an awaiting ambulance transferred the patient to the local hospital.



Source of News Release:

United States Coast Guard
Web Site


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