Coast Guard airlifts 2 after tour boat becomes damaged in rough weather

9th Coast Guard District NewsCLEVELAND – A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from Air Station Traverse City, Mich., airlifted two people from a tour boat after it became damaged in rough weather in Lake Michigan near Empire, Mich., Monday evening.

The operator of the tour boat, Pictured Rocks, used the vessel’s VHF-FM marine radio to call for help at 8:23 p.m. after the vessel reportedly took a wave over the bow, blowing out a window and causing the boat’s electronics to malfunction. There were 61 people reported aboard the vessel.

The operator then purposely grounded the vessel near shore in Empire, later reporting to Coast Guard personnel at Sector Lake Michigan he did so to prevent further damage or possible flooding.

A Coast Guard crew aboard a 25-foot Response Boat-Small from Station Frankfort, Mich., was already underway conducting training and immediately diverted to assist the passengers and crew of the Pictured Rocks. An MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Traverse City also headed to the scene.

Other local response agencies came to the scene to assist as well.

The operator and first mate were able to transfer all but two passengers to safety by having them disembark the vessel and wade to shore. The helicopter’s rescue swimmer was lowered from the aircraft to help people safely make it ashore.

The Pictured Rocks crew then stayed with the remaining two passengers, who reportedly had not left the tour boat due to shoulder injuries. As a safety precaution, the Coast Guard aircrew hoisted the individuals off the vessel and onto shore, where they were evaluated by emergency medical technicians and transported to a local hospital for further treatment.

“Though I’ve only been stationed here about two months, I’m already impressed by the tremendous skill and professionalism displayed by this air station’s crew,” said Cmdr. Chris Chase, operations officer at Air Station Traverse City. “Rough weather and night operations can make for a challenging response, so our frequent training really pays off in situations like this.”

Other passengers reported minor cuts and scrapes as a result of the broken window. There were no major injuries reported. Due to the remote location the Pictured Rocks ended up, a local kayak rental company assisted with the transport of the passengers. They were shuttled back to the tour boat’s departure location in the company’s van.

The Station Frankfort RB-S crew surveyed the damage and could not sight any resulting pollution, but the Coast Guard continues to monitor the situation. Coast Guard personnel plan to conduct a thorough assessment in the morning.

Waves in the area were reported to be two- to four-feet.

The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the incident.

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