AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico — Coast Guard helicopter crews conducted cliff and vertical surface rescue operations Thursday just off Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen and Survivor Beach as part of their advanced Search and Rescue certification and annual training requirements.
“The diverse and mountainous topography of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands allows our Air Station personnel to train utilizing the most demanding and situationally accurate scenarios our aircrews may encounter during an actual rescue mission” said Lt. Matt Udkow, Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot. “Conducting a cliff rescue requires a great deal of proficiency and precision flying, and all pilots, flight mechanics, and rescue swimmers must keep certified every 15 months as part of our advanced qualification and training requirements to conduct search and rescue operations in our area of responsibility.”
During this training operation, Air Station Borinquen conducted 20 vertical surface cliff deployments, which resulted in six pilots, five flight mechanics and two rescue swimmers receiving their qualifications.
This rescue operation requires precision coordination between the aircrew and ground team. The helicopter, maintaining a precise and stable hover, hoists a rescue swimmer down to the 200-foot vertical cliff face. The rescue swimmer then utilizes hand signals to position the helicopter in the proper position for hoisting, and the flight mechanic verbally directs the helicopter’s movement. The swimmer then traverses and repels down the cliff face to the survivor and connects the survivor directly to himself and the helicopter hoist hook. The helicopter then hoists the rescue swimmer and survivor from the cliff face, helping to alleviate the imminent danger and bringing the survivor to safety.
Coast Guard ground safety, security and medical crews were deployed to the area to support the training exercise.
“Like any other training scenario there is always a level of risk involved, and it requires a team effort from everyone to ensure that all the preparations are made to have the safest possible training environment,” said Udkow.
The last major cliff rescue conducted by Air Station Borinquen was in Dec. 18, 2013, when a Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued a 60-year-old man who fell approximately a 100 feet from a mountainside in Yauco, Puerto Rico.