Coast Guard aircrew awarded for 2007 Oregon rescue

WASHINGTON — A Coast Guard Air Station Humbolt Bay, Calif. helicopter crew were presented with the Rotor & Wing “Above and Beyond the Call” award yesterday in Reston, Va. for their December 2007 rescue of an Oregon man.

Helicopter CG-6570 crew members, Lt. Lauren Cox, Lt.j.g. Alex Barker, Petty Officer 3rd Class Celso Jaquez and Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Lesko received the award at the Search and Rescue Summit 2008.

“The efforts of this crew were truly remarkable, and they overcame terrible conditions to save a life,” said Capt. Christopher Martino, commanding officer, Group Humbolt Bay.

The Coast Guard was notified on December 2, 2007 by the 25-foot Catalina sailing vessel Jack that the rudder had broken and was taking water over the sides. The owner did not have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon to broadcast his position or a survival suit to protect him from the 50-degree water.

Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay launched an HH-65C to respond 50 miles offshore. Enroute, the aircraft and crew were buffeted by gale force winds and rain under overcast skies. On-scene in complete darkness, the crew found that the conditions had deteriorated. Winds blew at a sustained 45 knots gusting to 60 knots and the sea swell had grown to 30-feet with an occasional towering 50-foot wave.

Arriving on-scene in complete darkness, the aircrew found that conditions had deteriorated. The rudderless sailboat was swinging erratically through 60 degrees of heading changes while simultaneously heaving uncontrollably in the swells and rolling violently 40 to 50 degrees to both port and starboard. At one time the 6570 crew members witnessed the 25′ sailboat roll approximately 80 degrees to port and the mast strike an incoming swell.

Lesko, a rescue swimmer, was lowered to the water via the rescue hoist. As he approached the water, Lesko was struck by a large swell and dragged approximately 15 feet through the wave, injuring his back. Unaware of rescue swimmer’s injuries, the flight mechanic continued lowering him. Despite pain and injury, Lesko rescued the victim and hoisted him into the basket. The flight mechanic then hoisted the survivor to the aircraft, assisted the exhausted victim out of the basket, and quickly returned the basket to the injured swimmer in the heavy seas. Lesko was hoisted aboard as the aircraft reached its critical fuel state. The crew quickly prepared the helicopter for forward flight and departed the scene to return to Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay.

The storm tossed victim was transferred to waiting emergency medical services and transported to a local hospital where he was evaluated, treated for exposure and released to his family. The vessel was destroyed as it washed ashore several days later.

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