Coast Guard air crews rescue three fishermen from sinking boat

HONOLULU — Two U.S. Coast Guard air crews — one piloting an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and the other a C-130 long-range search plane from Air Station Barbers Point — were airborne early Wednesday to rescue three fishermen after a boat capsized and sank 12 miles southeast of the Big Island.

Search and rescue coordinators in a 24-hour U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center in Honolulu Harbor received a patched distress call from the Hawaii County Fire Department at approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday after one of the fishermen used his cell phone to call 911.

The fishermen were about three miles southeast of Hilo when they hailed distress after their 19-foot small boat overturned. Coast Guard search coordinators immediately relayed the information to the air station and deployed rescue crews.

When the Coast Guard air rescue crews arrived on scene, the fishermen had drifted 12 miles south of Hilo. The co-pilot of the rescue helicopter spotted all three of the fishermen in the water, clinging to a cooler. The flight mechanic in the back of the HH-65 helicopter lowered a rescue basket and plucked all three from the water.

Once safely aboard the helicopter, the Coast Guard crew flew to Hilo International Airport and the fishermen were then transferred to an awaiting Hawaii county emergency medical services team. All of the distressed fishermen involved in the rescue were reported to be in good condition.

“We were lucky to be able to reach them via cell phone,” said Lt. j.g. Eric Majeska, a C-130 pilot at Air Station Barbers Point and an instrumental member of the rescue team. “It’s important to remind mariners to have the proper safety gear on board and to leave a plan with friends or families because that makes our job as rescuers that much easier.”

One of the most important safety practices boaters can take on the water is wearing a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD).

“They were very fortunate to have a dry cell phone on board and it probably saved their lives,” said Charles Turner, a Coast Guard search and rescue coordinator at Sector Honolulu. “This case could have turned out a lot worse.”

Remembering a few other safety precautions can also ensure boaters have a safe time on the water:

  • File a float plan — tell someone where you are going, when you will be back, the names of persons aboard and what route you plan on traveling;
  • Use safety equipment — travel with a marine VHF radio or another form of communication such as an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). Being able to contact the Coast Guard is critical in case of an emergency;
  • Don’t drink and boat — boating while intoxicated is against the law and can result in arrest or worse, cause a fatal accident;
  • Be aware of the weather — the National Weather Service broadcasts marine weather forecasts regularly. Check the NWS Web site at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/. For more information on boating safety, please visit: http://www.uscgboating.org.

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