Joint SAR operation rescues two off Central American coast

SAN FRANCISCO – In a joint search and rescue operation, two Canadian men stranded in a life raft were rescued approximately 100 miles off the coast of Costa Rican and Nicaraguan maritime border waters this morning.

The two men, from Winfield, B.C., Canada, ages 47 and 65, were reported sailing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua in a 42-foot catamaran Thursday, when, for unknown reasons, they abandoned ship, taking refuge in a life raft and activated their Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. The joint operation included assistance from the Marshall Islands flagged Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue vessel, Sunbelt Spirit, the nations of Costa Rica and Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, both deployed to the eastern Pacific Ocean as Joint Interagency Task Force South counter drug assets.

The U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area command center, in Portsmouth, Va., received the EPIRB signal, Thursday. Command and control was then transferred to the 11th Coast Guard District command center, in Alameda, Calif., at 2:30 p.m. Thursday to coordinate rescue efforts.

District search and rescue controllers immediately made notifications, requesting the AMVER vessel, Sunbelt Spirit, change its course towards the EPIRB signal. The district controllers also notified a U.S. Navy asset, which performed an over flight of the EPIRB location with a P-3 Orion aircraft. The over flight was unable to locate the source of the signal due to unfavorable conditions while searching at night. Concurrently, a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircrew was notified and ordered to make preparations and conduct an over flight of the signal location.

The Hercules aircrew conducted the over flight and pinpointed the location of the EPIRB signal to a life raft with two people aboard at 10:35 a.m. this morning. The confirmed coordinates of the people in distress were then passed to the AMVER vessel, Sunbelt Spirit, to assist with the rescue.

At 11 a.m., the AMVER vessel arrived on scene and reported to that the rescued people may not be strong enough to climb aboard the vessel using its rope ladder. District controllers then requested the U.S. Navy asset to medically evacuate the persons using a helicopter. To perform this rescue, the helicopter would require refueling en route. Refueling arrangements were then made with Costa Rican officials to complete the mission. However, prior to departure for the medivac, the AMVER vessel reported the rescued people successfully climbed the ladder and boarded the ship.

“This rescue is an excellent example of how international relationships though pre-established agreements can save lives,” said Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District commander. “As a result of these excellent relationships, a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 Hercules crew, the U.S.S. Doyle, Joint Interagency Task Force South, Costa Rica, Canada and the Martial Islands flagged AMVER vessel, Sunbelt Spirit, seamlessly coordinated to execute this rescue.”

The rescued personnel have been treated for dehydration and sunburn, and command and control has been transferred to Canadian foreign affairs for repatriation.

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