By John “Bear” Moseley, CGAA Historian
Coast Guard flight crews are an essential part of the operational capability of the U.S. Coast Guard. Their primary duty is operational response to search and rescue, law and treaties enforcement, marine environmental protection, and military readiness. Their accomplishments in the Search and Rescue mission borders upon the legendary. They are both dedicated and extraordinarily competent. There is a special relationship between crewmembers which is unique to Coast Guard Aviation. Academically this could be identified as a shared mental model or mindset. In operational language, it is a culture of mutual respect and team mentality resulting in a successful mission in a high-risk environment.
There are many examples of aircrew competence and courage. I have chosen a few to represent the many.
AST1 Drew D. Dazzo
On 4 February 2010, AST1 Drew D. Dazzo, an Elizabeth City-stationed CG rescue swimmer, was awarded Canada’s second-highest medal for bravery in non-combat operations after his efforts that saved the lives of three men, one of which was a Canadian citizen. Michelle Jean, Governor General of Canada, presented AST1 Dazzo with the Star of Courage award. He is the third U.S. citizen to receive the medal. The sailing vessel SEAN SEAMOUR II had foundered after encountering sub-tropical storm Andrea which packed 70 knot winds and waves of 40-50 feet. The sailors were forced to abandon their vessel into a small inflatable life-raft 225 miles SE of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. CG6014 arrived on scene and successfully located the raft with the assistance of a C-130 aircraft. The raft was skimming due to the wind and seas. Demonstrating exceptional courage, PO DAZZO was lowered into the heavy seas to rescue the mariners from their perilous situation. With stalwart physical ability, he directed the first sailor from the raft and positioned into the rescue basket. During the first hoist, PO Dazzo sustained a significant back injury. With the first survivor safely aboard the aircraft, PO DAZZO was hoisted and repositioned back to the raft, where he reentered the roiling seas. He again battled the waves to save the second mariner. PO DAZZO reentered the waves a third time and struggled toward the last crewman. As the rescue basket cradled the final survivor, PO DAZZO succumbed to exhaustion and pain and gave the emergency pick-up signal. With the hoist cable beginning to fray and battling significant salt water ingestion, PO DAZZO was lifted for the final time.
The Star of Courage is a decoration that is, within the Canadian system of honours, the second highest award for bravery (second only to the Canadian Victoria’s Cross) and one of the three Canadian Bravery Decorations.
AMT3 James M. McGinley
AMT3 James M. McGinley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight on the Coast Guard HH-60J helicopter CG6042 on 13 November 2003, as Flight Mechanic. Responding to a distress call from the S/V LADY SAMANTHA, which was disabled 150 nautical miles south of Cape Cod, MA, the aircrew fought 85-knot wind gusts to find the vessel being helplessly battered by massive seas. It frequently rolled until its masts were in the water, and the wildly swinging rigging made a direct hoist to the vessel impossible. The sailors tried to abandon ship into their life raft, but the weather conditions parted the tether and it quickly disappeared downwind. The aircrew then ordered the sailors to enter the raging seas one at a time so they could be hoisted from the water. Undaunted by the massive 50-foot waves and 75 knot winds, Petty Officer McGinley provided precise aircraft conning commands while expertly timing the perfect delivery of the rescue swimmer into the back side of a wave. He then provided continuous conning commands to hold the aircraft in position, while simultaneously paying out and retracting the cable at maximum speed to compensate for the huge waves. When the swimmer was ready with the first survivor, Petty Officer McGinley skillfully guided the aircraft overhead and deftly hoisted them from the top of a wave. Through remarkable skill he overcame the incredibly difficult and dangerous conditions to complete the first rescue in only 8 minutes. The same procedures were followed for the second rescue, but on the third, the survivor slipped out of her life jacket and was in imminent danger of succumbing to the frigid waters. Petty Officer McGinley immediately delivered the rescue swimmer directly to the survivor just as she was about to go under. On the fourth rescue, complete darkness had fallen, obscuring the approaching wave crests. As Petty Officer McGinley lowered the swimmer into the water, a massive wave broke on top of him, holding him below the surface for a tense 27 seconds. Displaying incredible composure, McGinley kept the pilot in position above the swimmer as he was dragged by the enormous wave. His skill prevented injury to the swimmer, and the aircrew then proceeded to recover the last two victims. Petty Officer McGinley’s actions, skill and valor were instrumental in the rescue of 5 persons and are in keeping with the highest traditions of Coast Guard Aviation
Lieutenant Troy A. Beshears
Lieutenant Troy A. Beshears was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight while serving as pilot aboard Coast Guard HH-65A CGNR 6539 on the night of 5 July 2000, responding to a reported oil rig fire. He displayed exceptional fortitude during the evacuation of all people. Upon arrival on scene, the crew realized the oil rig was ablaze, the rescue ladder was blocked by fire, and an immediate evacuation of the crew was required. After first landing on the burning rig, the aircrew left the rescue swimmer to coordinate evacuation and began ferrying personnel to an adjacent oil rig. Making three trips, the CG 6539 airlifted 12 persons to another platform nine miles away before having to refuel, while 36 people were safely lowered to a surface vessel via netting attached to the rig crane. Meanwhile CG 6585, a second helicopter, arrived to evacuate the final four people after all power to the rig was secured. CG 6585 was weight limited and left the rescue swimmer on the rig. While Beshears was on downwind for the pickup of the rescue swimmer the rig exploded into a ball of fire that extended from the waterline to 100 feet over the top of the platform. Immediately after the explosion, Brian Moore, the swimmer came up on the radio and said. “If you guys plan on picking me up –now would be a good time to do it.” Beshears knew that a jump of 110 feet into the water would most probably incapacitate or kill Moore. The landing pad was obscured by the dark billowing smoke. With knowledge gained from three previous landings he continued the approach and entered instrument conditions holding an altitude 75 feet above the platform height. The platform was sighted and he took conning commands from the flight mechanic. He briefly landed and picked up the rescue swimmer just prior to a second enormous explosion. Lieutenant Beshears action and aeronautical skill were paramount in the rescue of 51 persons, who otherwise would have perished in the fire. His courage, judgment, and skill are in keeping with the highest traditions of Coast Guard Aviation
AST1 Brian E, Laubenstein
AST1 Brian E, Laubenstein was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary heroism while participating in aerial flight as Rescue Swimmer aboard HH-60J Helicopter CG6042 on 13 November 2003. Responding to a distress call from S/V LADY SAMANTHA that was disabled 150 miles south of Cape Cod, MA, the aircrew flew in weather with severe wind gusts to locate the vessel being battered by massive seas. The vessel frequently rolled until its masts were in the water, and wildly swinging rigging made a direct hoist from the vessel impossible. The sailors tried to abandon ship into their life raft, but the howling winds parted the tether and it quickly disappeared downwind. The aircrew then ordered the sailors to enter the raging seas one at a time so they could be hoisted from the water. Undaunted by the massive 50-foot waves and 75-knot winds, Petty Laubenstein instantly volunteered to enter the water. Demonstrating incredible courage and determination, he was lowered into the top of a wave and immediately fought his way through massive breaking seas to reach the first survivor, connect him to the rescue strop, and signal for pick up. Through a remarkably skillful effort by the entire aircrew, the first two rescues were completed in only 20 minutes. During the third rescue, the survivor slipped out of her flotation device and was in imminent danger of succumbing to the frigid waters. Without hesitation, Petty Officer Laubenstein reached the survivor just as she was about to go under. Because she had no flotation device, he feared loosening his grip to place the rescue strap around her. Instead, relying solely on his strength, he used the “physical grip” recovery method as they were raised 70 feet to the helicopter through the 75-knot winds. Had he not been able to maintain his grip, she would have fallen to the water and perished. On the fourth rescue, complete darkness had fallen, obscuring the approaching wave crests. As Petty Officer Laubenstein was again lowered into water, a massive wave broke on top of him, burying him beneath tons of foaming water. For a tense 27 seconds, the wave held him below the surface until he was able to fight his way up for air. Undaunted by that harrowing experience, he continued with the mission to rescue the fourth and fifth survivors. Petty Officer Laubenstein’s actions, skill and valor were instrumental in the rescue of five persons. His courage, judgment, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of Coast Guard Aviation
AMT3 John J. Overholt
AMT3 John J. Overholt was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as flight mechanic aboard Coast Guard helicopter 6023 on 22 January 1999. The crew was engaged in the perilous night rescue of six crewmen from the fishing vessel NOWITNA, which was disabled and taking on water in heavy seas 75 miles northwest of Cold Bay, Alaska. Dispatched from St. Paul Island, Alaska, Petty Officer Overholt conducted a thorough review of hoisting procedures during the 200 mile transit through turbulent 45-knot headwinds, 1/2–mile visibility, freezing rain and snow showers. Arriving on scene, the crew relied entirely on night vision goggles to evaluate the powerless fishing vessel as darkness, sea spray, and horizontal rain rendered unaided visual impossible. Wind gusts of 60 knots and 30-foot rogue waves were hammering the NOWITNA, which listed and rolled precariously. Once CG6023 was established in a hover, Petty Officer Overholt expertly conned the Aircraft Commander directly over the heaving deck between the pilothouse antennas and towering foremast. He made several difficult attempts to deliver a trail line amidships between the wildly swaying mast and antennas, but the line repeatedly sailed aft in the wind and eventually got tangled on the ship’s gyrating rigging. After CG6023 repositioned over the vessels bow, he skillfully conned the Aircraft Commander over the deck, successfully delivered a trail line, and began hoisting survivors aboard the helicopter. As the third man was to be lifted, the NOWITNA’s bow settled violently into a wave causing the basket to leave the deck prematurely, narrowly missing the ship’s rigging which snagged the dangling trail line and caused it to part. Undaunted, Petty Officer Overholt quickly rigged the last trail line, using the aircraft chocks and cabin fire extinguisher for weight since there were no remaining weight bags, and continued hoisting. During the final hoist, the only remaining trail line became fouled on the vessel’s mast. He immediately conned the pilot in a counterclockwise semi-circle to free the only remaining trail line, delivered it to the waiting crewman, and quickly hoisted him from the deck. After nearly an hour of intense hoisting efforts, all six NOWITNA crewmen were safely on board CG6023 and en route Cold Bay. Petty Officer Overholt’s actions, and skill were instrumental in the rescue of six persons. His courage, judgment, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of Coast Guard Aviation.