Coast Guard to hold memorial service for local helicopter crew

The CG-6549 Memorial at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay. The memorial honors the crew of CG-6549 who were lost on June 8, 1997 in an effort to rescue mariners in distress approximately 60 miles West of Cape Mendocino, California. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The CG-6549 Memorial at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay.   (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard honors the sacrifice of four crewmembers lost at sea in 1997 off the coast of Cape Mendocino, with a live stream scheduled Monday at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt.

The public is invited to observe the memorial on the Sector Humboldt Bay Facebook page, which is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. PDT.

Twenty-three years ago on June 8, 1997, four Coast Guard helicopter crewmembers were lost in an effort to rescue mariners in distress approximately 60 miles west of Cape Mendocino.

Crewing the Sector Humboldt Bay MH-65 Dolphin helicopter (CG-6549) were: Lt. Jeffrey F. Crane, 35, of Marshfield, Massachussetts (CG Aviator #3188); Lt. j. g. Charles W. Thigpen IV, 26, of Riverside (CG Aviator #3310); Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard L. Hughes, 33, of Black Canyon, Arizona; Petty Officer 3rd Class James G. Caine, 26, of Hinesville, Georgia (CG Rescue Swimmer #425).

The Canadian sailing vessel Ezara-2, contacted the Coast Guard reporting they had five people aboard and their vessel had become disabled in 25-foot seas and 45-knot winds.

Two Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay MH-65 Dolphin helicopters, a Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento HC-130 Hercules aircraft and the Coast Guard Cutter Edisto responded to the call.

The helicopters provided the Ezara-2 with radios and a sea anchor, which stabilized the sailing vessel. Some of the Ezara-2’s crewmembers were injured and the boat was damaged due to heavy seas, forcing the Ezara-2 crew to abandon ship into a life raft.

The CG-6549 crew began an instrument-guided approach to the last known position of the life raft when the HC-130 lost sight and communications with the helicopter in the darkness and heavy winds.

The Edisto arrived on scene through heavy seas and recovered all of the Ezara-2’s survivors from the life raft and began searching for the CG-6549.

Aircraft crews from Coast Guard Air Stations North Bend and Astoria, Navy P-3 patrol planes and Air Force HC-130 rescue airplanes joined in the search. One the water, Coast Guard Cutters Sapelo, Buttonwood, Steadfast and Boutwell aided in the search.

Scattered debris from the helicopter was located in the area and the main fuselage was recovered on the ocean floor over a month later. The crew of the 6549 was lost at sea.

“It is important for us to remember this crew and honor their sacrifice by continuing to stand the watch,” said Capt. Mark Hiigel, the Sector Humboldt Bay commander.

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