11-14-2007, 02:03 PM #1
Dramatic Alaskan rescue of plane crash survivor
Public Safety professionals;
The rescue of a plane crash survivor in an out of the way corner of Alaska on September 22, 2007, is the basis of a dramatic story that includes Kawasaki JET SKI watercraft provided to the responding agency by the Kawasaki JET SKI loan program. The full story is on the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s e-zine site http://www.teamcoastguard.org .
The parts of the story that resonates with me is the fortunate coincidences that brought together a collection of unrelated people at the crucial moment to save a woman’s life. There were the civilian recreational hikers (and paramedic) who found the site, the civilian recreational boaters with a radio, the fully trained and equipped Coast Guard Auxiliary who happened to be nearby conducting a training exercise, and the uniformed Coast Guard in a helicopter nearby doing a routine aerial inspection of aids to navigation.
As you read the story, imagine all these people who with no advance planning and no experience working together, were able to save a life. The tragic loss of the pilot’s life could easily have been compounded had not the collection skilled and trained people not been available at that place at that moment.
Also worth noting is that the Auxiliary is not usually specifically tasked as a rescue agency. It was again a very fortunate convergence of Auxiliarists who were prepared and had had appropriate training.
Yes the Kawasaki JET SKI® watercraft on loan to the Coast Guard Auxiliary played a role, but no more crucial than the skills, coolness, and training of the many individuals involved.
I sincerely hope that should your agencies have this type of rescue opportunity, your training, and equipment will help you too achieve a successful outcome.
Freeman McCue PR
714-557-3663 ext 219
11-14-2007, 02:07 PM #2
Auxiliarists on PWC’s assist in rescuing survivor
of plane crash in Prince William Sound, Alaska
By Sigurd Murphy, Captain, Division 2, D17, Whittier, Alaska
Looking Forward to a Training Mission – but Always Ready
Photo by Mary Murphy – Auxiliary member
(left to right) RCO Roy Stoddard, COMO Gary Taylor, DSO-CS Stewart Sterling, DCP Sig Murphy, and FSO-MT Rae De Ley.
The day began as one of the most spectacular late autumn days in Alaska’s Prince William Sound with sunshine glistening off the white "termination dust" on the mountain peaks, always a harbinger of the approaching cold winter months.
Four Auxiliary members, Division 2 Captain Sig Murphy, D17 Commodore Gary Taylor, National Surface Operations Division Chief Stewart Sterling, were engaged in operational training. They were completing personnel water craft (PWC) qualifications and recertification.
They did not know that their search and rescue (SAR) capabilities and the response time of their PWCs would be tested. That would make a difference that afternoon of September 22, 2007. They were accompanied that day by an Auxiliary SAFE Boat with Rear Commodore (RCO) Roy Stoddard as the coxswain.
After completing PWC training rotations, the group returned to the port of Whittier, picked-up Flotilla Member Training Officer Rae De Ley for the SAFE Boat and began a combined training and safety patrol.
In mid-afternoon, the Auxiliarists on the SAFE boat received word about a downed aircraft. The radio transmission from the person contacting the Coast Guard could not be heard and no location for the site was given. The crew on the SAFE boat (hereinafter called "the crew") called in the two PWC operators using their spot-light; a pre-arranged signal. The crew considered potential locations of the radio transmission and headed in that general direction.
The faint sound from an on-scene radio could be heard, followed by the report of an aircraft crash in the vicinity of "Three Finger Cove," about 13 miles away. The report indicated one survivor trapped in the wreckage.
Auxiliarist Sig Murphy had recently hiked in the area of the crash so it was decided, because of their emergency response speed, that he and Stewart Sterling would use their PWCs. The crew of COMO Taylor, RCO Stoddard and Auxiliarist DeLay would follow in the SAFE boat. Two other Auxiliary operational vessels were also underway in the area. On their way to the site, in their vessels, were coxswain Tom Kane with crewperson Mary Southard and coxswain Dave Brubaker with his crew: Will Frost, Bill Reiter, trainee Dan Wagner and guest Cynthia Jones, an emergency medical technician (EMT) visiting from southeast Alaska.
Stewart and Sig in Cochrane Bay after SAR
Photo by Roy Stoddard
On their PWCs, attaining speeds of close to 60 mph, the operators arrived at the cove within 12 minutes. They were immediately flagged down by a woman rowing a small dinghy from shore; "The airplane had crashed in a densely wooded area on a nearby mountainside," she stated.
Beaching their vessels on the rocky shore and, in full PPE gear (Personal Protection Equipment; dry suits) with life jacket, helmet and goggles, they headed up the steep terrain towards the crash site. After an exhausting, slippery climb by grabbing rocks and roots, they came to the crest of a ridgeline and looked down upon the crash scene.
The Cessna 180 float plane was upside down with its right wing missing. The propeller had been torn from the engine, there was extensive front end damage and the area was soaked with aviation fuel. Hikers in the area had heard what sounded like two rifle shots. What they really heard was the right wing hitting a tree on a nearby hill and the impact of the plane crashing onto another wooded hill.
Two hikers had investigated the sounds and soon found the wreckage. One hiker, Pam Pope, an EMT had determined that the pilot was dead but the woman (wife of the pilot) trapped in the wreckage was still alive. The second hiker quickly returned to the shore and asked a person on a vessel anchored in the cove to radio the crash report to the Coast Guard. This was the transmission that the Auxiliary overheard.
Both the pilot and passenger were trapped in the mangled cabin. Pope, the EMT felt that the passenger had a chance if they could find a way to extract her from the wreckage quickly. The EMT held the victim’s head up out of the mud and oil that had accumulated on the ceiling, now floor, of the up-side down plane. Auxiliarists Murphy and Sterling and one of the other hikers, Jim Brennan, began pulling back metal parts of the wreckage so they could remove the victim.
Tired – But PWC SAR Response Proven
Photo by Bill Morris VFC-Whittier
At this rescue operation was underway, a Coast Guard Helicopter, on a mission checking aids to navigation (ATON) along the coast, was diverted to the scene. It landed in a nearby meadow. Two CG aviation crew members climbed to the crash site. Everyone worked together to extract the sole survivor.
The victim was in shock but partially conscious. The EMT determined that she had a broken arm, broken knee and extensive head trauma with bleeding wounds. After removing the victim from the cockpit, the EMT used materials from the Auxiliary PWC first-aid kits to secure her broken arm and staunch blood from her injuries.
The helicopter crew stated that because they were on an ATON mission, they did not have a rescue swimmer aboard. They were also low on fuel. All agreed that the patient’s only chance for survival was to transport her immediately to a hospital by helicopter.
The USCG crew indicated they could not leave a crew member on the ground to perform a basket hoist. Auxiliarists Murphy and Sterling had previously practiced water basket hoists with Coast Guard helicopters and volunteered to be the ground crew. The CG aviation crew hiked back to their helicopter, lifted off and the basket hoist was successfully completed in minutes. The USCG helicopter reached an Anchorage hospital with less than two minutes of fuel remaining.
Ten minutes after CG helicopter departed, the Alaska Air National Guard (AANG) arrived on scene. Due to the location of the crash site, AANG was the Search Mission Coordinator (SMC) for this rescue with Coast Guard assistance. The AANG Rescue Squadron responded with a C-130 aircraft that circled overhead. An AANG helicopter landed 30 minutes later.
AANG Paramedics hiked to the scene where the Auxiliary was still standing by and pronounced the pilot deceased. The AANG transported the deceased pilot to Anchorage. It was later learned that the responding Air National Guard units were the same with whom the Whittier flotilla had practiced a Sea SAR two months earlier in the same general area.
Crash Scene above Three Finger Cove, Prince William Sound, AK
Photo by Cynthia Jones EMT-Haines, AK.
During the entire rescue two other Auxiliary vessels with coxswain Tom Kane and crewperson Mary Southard on one and coxswain Bob and crewperson Nancy Harvey on the other took-up strategic positions in the area to assist in communication relays. "The staging of the Auxiliary vessels was perfect for the situation. We were each where we needed to be," said one coxswain.
After returning back to port in Whittier, a debriefing meeting was held with participating Auxiliary members. All acknowledged that the speedy response, using the PWCs, validated the fact that the PWC is a realistic, important SAR tool for the Auxiliary in Alaska. They can provide rapid response and be used to extract people from the water or from vessels. They can also be used to tow recreational boats in distress or be used in an emergency as an on-scene command station.
Their versatility allows searches for missing persons or vessels in shallow waters and rocky areas not accessible to many larger boats. "The response capabilities of PWC operational vessels can make a difference of life or death, especially in our harsh Alaska climate and coastal terrain," said Division 2 Captain Murphy.
The woman from the plane survived and is now recovering at home after an extensive hospital stay. She lost her husband who was highly respected in the community – but she could have lost a great deal more but for the assistance of the Good Samaritan boaters, CG Auxiliarists and air crew and the Alaska Air National Guard, all working together as a team. The CG Auxiliary operations program sets high standards for a reason – it saves lives. As crewperson Mary Southard commented afterwards: "This was all about training, training, and more training. We all responded immediately and were ready to assist in anyway we could. I was so proud to be an Auxiliarist this day." Semper Paratus!
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