August 8, 2007 in SEA
Summary of Action for CG6014
for the S/V SEAN SEAMOUR II, 7 May 2007
- Date of Event: 7 May 2007
- UCN: 07-117
- MISLE #: 347947
- Distance to O/S: 225NM SE of Elizabeth City
- Weather conditions:
A. En route scene– 2 miles visibility, rain; forced to circumnavigate heavy rain bands.
On scene – 2 miles visibility, moderate rain.
En route MCAS Cherry Point – 2 mile visibility, rain; broke out of the weather approx 15NM east of Morehead City, NC where the weather turned clear with 38 knot wind gusts.
B. Time of Day – Day.
C. Temperatures – Survivors had mild hypothermia after approx 5 hours in the water. Cabin heat in the aircraft lessened the severity or the survivors’ hypothermia en route to MCAS Cherry Point.
D. Seas – Waves of between 50-70 feet according to the aircraft’s radar altimeter and the survivors’ estimates. The nearest NOAA buoy reported 38.4 feet. PO Dazzo was in the water during the largest waves, while LTJG Nelson and PO Higgins conducted hoisting in the treacherous seas. The crew, as best as they could, timed their evolutions and waited for the waves to diminish each time to approx 20 to 40 feet before bringing survivors up from the water.
E. Winds en route – peak winds of 77 knots from 090.
Winds on scene – steady 45 knots from 090 with higher gusts. Survivors reported peaks of 85 kts throughout the night.
Winds en route to MCAS Cherry Point – 50 knot direct tailwind until flying west of the weather front located 15 NM east of Morehead City, NC; unlimited visibility thereafter with a 40 knot headwind.
- Crew Information & noteworthy tasks completed during event:
A. H60 –
IP – PNAC – LCDR NEVADA SMITH – As AC, directed the rescue plan; acted as safety pilot; kept PAC abreast on the pace and size of waves.
B. H60 –
AC – PAC – LTJG AARON NELSON – Demonstrated outstanding aeronautical skill throughout the flight. Despite enormous waves, provided a stable platform and active communications for the Flight Mechanic to conduct the hoists.
C. H60 –
FM – AMT2 SCOTT HIGGINS – Lowered and raised the rescue swimmer 6 times and completed 3 basket hoists of survivors. PO Higgins worked the hoist virtually non-stop for 39minutes. He gave excellent and continuous conning commands. Provided a continuous and vivid picture of exactly what the swimmer, basket, survivors, raft, and waves were doing throughout. AMT2 Higgins made the difficult decision to continue with the last hoist of the RS as he felt 10 broken strands cut his glove as the last basket hoist was being completed.
D. H60 – RS
– AST2 DREW DAZZO – Extraordinary performance during this intense SAR case. Ensured the three sailors got safely out of the raft and into the rescue basket despite 50-70 foot waves and steady 45 knot winds.
- Survivors: 3 mariners sailing to the Azores from the Green Coves Spring, FL.
- ODO: LT Schanno
- SUMMARY Of ACTION:
At 0743L on May 7th, 2007 CG6014 departed Air Station Elizabeth City to rescue 3 mariners reported to be in a raft after they had abandoned the 44’ sailing vessel SEAN SEAMOUR II when it sank 225NM SE of Elizabeth City. The crew was sailing from the Green Coves Spring, FL across the Atlantic to the Azores when they were caught in a storm 180NM E of MCAS Cherry Point. In the near hurricane force winds, later named Subtropical Storm Andrea, the vessel and its crew struggled mightily throughout the early morning hours. The vessel had capsized during the night and trapped the 3 sailors inside the vessel. When the vessel eventually righted itself the three abandoned the vessel to a small life raft and activated their EPIRB as the sailing vessel’s bow began to dive and it was swallowed by the sea.
The C130 successfully located the raft earlier that morning as they fought the gusty winds and sweeping rain showers. The waves were so high and the raft (with no sea anchor and black in color) was moving so fast and was so hard to see that the C130 was only able to spot the raft every other orbit. Through perseverance of the crew and expert use of the onboard sensor equipment, the C-130 aircrew remained overhead the desperate situation. CG6014 finally established radio contact with the C130 which skillfully vectored them directly to the raft saving valuable fuel and ultimately allowing CG6014 to remain on scene longer.
Once on scene, the crew of CG6014 immediately formulated a rescue plan to save the imperiled survivors. After discussing the potential dangers, AMT2 Higgins, the Flight Mechanic (FM), prepared AST2 Dazzo, the Rescue Swimmer (RS), for deployment. With LTJG Nelson holding a stable 100’ hover near the raft, AST2 Dazzo requested a harness deployment into the churning ocean. The pilot and FM expertly lowered AST2 Dazzo between the mountainous swells; then AST2 Dazzo stroked mightily in the pounding waves to reach the tossing raft. Upon reaching the raft, AST2 Dazzo calmed the anxious survivors, checked their conditions, and briefed them on what to expect during the upcoming evolution. AST2 Dazzo selected the first survivor, who had a possible broken rib and was not wearing a survival suit, to enter the water for the first hoist. The RS struggled to carefully place the survivor into the rescue basket while simultaneously being pummeled by the relentless waves and wind. The ocean continued its attack on the raft and quickly pushed it hundreds of yards away from the swimmer and helicopter.
After the first survivor was safely aboard, AST2 Dazzo was hoisted back into the helicopter to catch his breath, and discuss the progress of the mission and a follow-on course of action with AMT2 Higgins. With LCDR Smith calling out the intervals and size of the approaching sets of the more dangerous waves, LTJG Nelson, AMT2 Higgins and AST2 Dazzo executed a second text book harness deployment of the swimmer near the raft. Once in the water AST2 Dazzo was violently slammed by a wave which knocked the mask off of his face. AST2 Dazzo promptly refitted his mask, regained his composure, and pressed on. With AST2 Dazzo swimming mightily below, AMT2 Higgins expertly conned LTJG Nelson near the raft’s position and prepared the cabin for the next basket hoist. The winds and waves continued to shove the raft away from the helicopter furiously as the second survivor entered the water. AST2 Dazzo positioned this second survivor with great difficulty into the rescue basket and AMT2 Higgins hoisted him up to the safety of the aircraft.
In order to expedite the rescue of the third survivor, AST2 Dazzo skillfully communicated to AMT2 Higgins to lift him only 30 feet above the waves and immediately relocate him near the raft. Demonstrating the utmost of crew coordination, teamwork and aeronautical skill LTJG Nelson and AMT2 Higgins quickly and safely hover taxied AST2 Dazzo toward the raft as he dangled below the helicopter and above the violently tossing waves.
After being successfully lowered into the water for the 3rd time, AST2 Dazzo began the final arduous swim toward the last survivor in the raft. AST2 Dazzo helped him from the raft and as the swimmer textbook states, promptly punctured the raft with his knife to avoid a potential airborne missile hazard and to avoid subsequent requests for help. The final hoist of the survivor was about to be effected when AST2 Dazzo ingested a mouthful of salt water. While rapidly succumbing to sheer exhaustion and the effects of salt water ingestion, AST2 Dazzo shoved the last survivor into the rescue basket and provided the thumbs up signal to the FM. As AMT2 Higgins raised the rescue basket with the survivor, he felt broken strands from the hoist cable cut his glove with the basket still 100 feet below the aircraft.
A critical life or death decision had to be made as the FM continued to retrieve the final survivor, not knowing if the cable would part or not. Physically and mentally reaching his limits as he was being tossed about in the angry seas, and only after seeing the last survivor enter the helicopter did AST2 Dazzo decide to give the emergency pick up signal. He could not stop vomiting due to salt water ingestion, and he was unable to get a good breath of air because of the relentless, towering waves. The emergency pick-up signal was immediately spotted by LTJG Nelson who then communicated this to AMT2 Higgins as he was bringing the last survivor aboard. AMT2 Higgins, while still cognizant of the fraying hoist cable, quickly disconnected the basket and immediately lowered the bare hook to the swimmer. The swimmer attached himself to the bare hook as the confused seas immediately dropped and suspended him over a trough which, despite the hoist pendant being in the full down position, wrenched his back causing extreme pain. AMT2 Higgins notified the pilot that the swimmer may have been injured as he continued to recover the RS. Once aboard, AST2 Dazzo was still ill due to salt water ingestion and was experiencing muscle spasms in his back. Disregarding his back pain, physical discomfort from continual vomiting, and sheer exhaustion, AST2 Dazzo rendered the necessary assistance to the hypothermic sailors, and administered oxygen to the survivor with the broken rib.
The pilots then navigated 180 nm through the storm with a 50 knot tailwind to MCAS Cherry Point where 3 ambulances awaited the grateful survivors. AST2 Dazzo was also met by an ambulance where he was evaluated and treated for his back spasms and dehydration by medical personnel and quickly returned to duty.
High winds, treacherous seas and extreme off-shore distances created a situation that required intense operational risk management, exacting crew coordination, and incredible skill and courage. Without the complete competence, concentration, and professionalism of every crewmember, this operation could have had a disastrous outcome. Each crewmember was essential to the life saving rescue of three mariners.
This day’s rescues were highlighted through local and national level media outlets. The CG crew has been contacted by the Weather Channel for video of the rescue where they plan to feature this case on an upcoming special storms episode. Additionally, numerous news articles have been published recounting the tale of the Sean Seymour II and her crew. Letters from one of the survivors and a survivor’s son will be included in this awards package to help capture the conditions on scene and desperation of the three mariners.
(There were two EPIRBs aboard the sailing vessel Sean Seamour II. The old EPIRB, that was kept as a backup, was registered to the captain’s old boat, the sailing vessel Lou Pantai. It was also referred to as the Lou Pantaï several times by the media. The new EPIRB that did not work as advertised was registered to the boat that actually sank, Sean Seamour II. Bottom line, any reference in prior SITREPs or articles regarding the Lou Pantaï should actually read the Sean Seamour II.)