Cutter Halibut Crew Helps to Save A Life On Shore

by PA1 Allyson E.T. Conroy

Memorial Day weekend is always traditionally busy for the men and women of the Coast Guard who spend this first weekend of summer on the water. Across the country their job is to make sure boaters are safe and to respond to a variety of situations. The early summer weekend of 2008 will definitely be a memorable one for a number of Coasties in the Los Angeles region.

At 9:21 Saturday morning, while on patrol, the Cutter Halibut received a distress call stating a helicopter had crashed near Two Harbors on Catalina Island. Upon receiving the call, the crew of the Halibut saw the black smoke rising from the area, confirming the emergency. The commanding officer, Lt. j.g. Paul Miller, called the sector command center to let them know what he had heard.

“I called Deputy Bruce Straelow, who is an Isthmus [County] Sheriff to get details,” Miller said. “He was on scene and had requested rescue assets, which I in turn passed to the sector (search and rescue) controller.” Within minutes the cutter was steaming toward the crash site to offer assistance.

About the same time the cutter received the information about the crash, Air Station Los Angeles also heard the distress call and launched a rescue helicopter and crew to help in any way they could.

“It appeared both [the] Halibut and the air station …launched on search and rescue after hearing distress calls,” air station public affairs officer, Lt. David Middleton said. Middleton believes that by doing so, this saved “valuable minutes and were some of the first assets on scene.”

About 20 minutes later the cutter arrived at Isthmus harbor, anchored and sent a rescue and assistance team with emergency medical kits to the island. The team consisted of Executive Petty Officer BM1 Alyson (AJ) Pulkkien, BM3 JR Tinajero, Seaman Brandon Blackwell, MK2 Daryl Lirette, and Game Warden John Castro.
“Upon arrival to the pier we unloaded the equipment and ran approximately 600 yards to the crash site.

There were several rescue vehicles in the area (around) the downed helicopter. Yellow caution tape had been set up to restrict access to the area,” said Castro, who was underway with the Halibut for a joint patrol.

The five members of Halibut’s rescue and assistance team were directed by the lifeguards and sheriff rescue personnel to the third victim, Sky. There they helped paramedics with the care of Sky by helping administering pain medication, putting her on the back board for transportation and caring for other injuries she sustained as a result of the crash.

“The Halibut’s rescue and assistance team were essentially charged with the care of Sky,” Miller said. “The other rescue personnel on the ground ran out of backboards and medical supplies, which is were our EMT/MED kit came into play.”

According to Castro, Sky was conscious the entire time the team helped stabilize her for transportation. In all, the Halibut crewmembers were on scene helping for about a half hour, directly resulting in saving Sky’s life.

“I believe the prior relationships and the professionalism displayed by each of the [agencies] made the difference in this tragic event,” Castro said.

While the Halibut crewmembers were helping with Sky, the Coast Guard rescue helicopter landed on the island and flight mechanic AET2 Nate Falkenstein and rescue swimmer AST3 Karol Garrison both offered their assistance.

In all two lives were saved that morning, including Sky.

“I am very proud of the way the team performed that day. Each of them stepped up, helped out and made a tremendous difference,” Miller said of his crewmembers. “They were able to put their training to use in a situation where limited resources were available and helped save a life.”

Though this was not a boating accident or even water related, it shows how diverse the missions are that members of the Coast Guard are called on to respond to on any given day.

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