Two Surfers Rescued by Coasties; Flight Mechanic’s First Live Save

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Coast Guard helicopter and crew in 2014. [Stock photo taken by Oliver Cory.]

“It was our flight mechanic’s first live save which is pretty awesome,” said Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Max Kaczmarek in an interview about how his crew extricated two surfers from Camel Rock in Trinidad yesterday. (See earlier story here.) “He nailed it.”

Kaczmarek was part of a helicopter rescue crew led by Lt. Commander Karyn Forsyth, the pilot of the Coast Guard helicopter that extricated two surfers from a dangerous situation yesterday. Forsyth said that the initial report received at 4:30 p.m. described surfers “caught in an eddy” near Camel Rock in Trinidad Bay. The report came from a civilian with a cell phone who described three surfers “waving as if in distress.”

“We arrived on scene by 5,” Forsyth said. It’s just a short transit from where the helicopter was stationed to Trinidad.  “We identified two surfers in wet suits on Camel Rock…One surfboard still stuck in the rocks [and] one adrift to the north… .”

The initial call for help had stated that three swimmers were in distress but now the crew received information that one surfer had been helped to safety–presumably by fellow surfers, Forsyth said, as three were spotted not far away in Trinidad Bay.

The sun was starting to drop as the crew got on scene. Forsyth described the weather as tricky, “It was a high surf…. Winds were light… The sea state was at least above 12 feet as it crashed into Camel Rock.”

It was Flight Mechanic Christian Wilson’s first live save. He had trained, of course. “We train on a regular basis,” said Lt. Commander Forsyth. “We just conducted one this last week.” But, in order to avoid the surface of Camel Rock and the sea spray from the high waves, Forsyth said, “We had to use a higher than normal hoist….about 80 feet.”

Wilson lowered Rescue Swimmer Max Kaczmarek down as Forsyth, the pilot, held the helicopter above the surfers. “Those guys had done a good job of getting up out of the surf,” Forsyth noted.

Kaczmarek explained that getting him to the surfers was the whole crew’s job. “The pilot can’t see where she is hoisting to,” Kaczmarek explained. Because Forsyth couldn’t see where the hoist was, the safety pilot Matthew Swann was guiding her. “His job encompasses a lot of things,” Kaczmarek said. “He’s getting information from our sector [dispatch] who is talking to someone with eyes on the surfers by a cell phone. He does the calculation that gets us in.”

The pilot was in charge of the helicopter. “She did a great job holding an awesome hover,” Kaczmarek explained. “When you are 80 feet above an area and waves are crashing all around, it took a lot of precision to make sure I didn’t get wet.”

Kaczmarek was lowered accurately to Camel Rock by Wilson, the flight mechanic. “”He nailed it,” stated the rescue swimmer enthusiastically. The high surf crashed around him and the two surfers. He strapped one into the rescue basket. Then the surfer was hoisted up 80 feet to the helicopter. When the basket returned, the second was strapped in and lifted to the helicopter. And, finally, Kaczmarek himself was hoisted up.

An ambulance was standing by in case it was needed but it wasn’t. The surfers were “just really cold,” said Forsyth. “They didn’t [need] any care that required them to go to the hospital.”

The crew headed back to base. Since it was Wilson’s first live save, let’s hope they got to celebrate a little. As Kaczmarek who should know said, “He did a really good job.”

We think the whole Coast Guard crew did a GREAT job.

Thank you, Coasties.

Press release from the Coast Guard:

 A Coast Guard aircrew rescued two distressed surfers near Trinidad Saturday afternoon.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay received a call from a person ashore stating his friends needed assistance and were stranded on Camel Rock.

A Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter aircrew was launched from Sector Humboldt Bay and within minutes were on scene at Camel Rock, approximately one-quarter mile offshore. They discovered two distressed surfers needing assistance. The rescue swimmer was lowered to the surfers to determine their condition.

Once initial assessments were complete, the surfers were hoisted to the helicopter and brought ashore to awaiting EMS at Arcata-Eureka Airport in stable condition.

“This was a great case highlighting the value of using crew resource management with a total team effort,” said Lt. Cmdr. Karyn Forsyth, aircraft commander, Sector Humboldt Bay. “Our challenging training program at Sector Humboldt Bay made our crew more confident that we could safely accomplish the demanding hoisting evolutions.”

For videos of the rescue click HERE and HERE.

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