When a retired Southeast Alaska fisherman found himself adrift after his boat suddenly sank in a storm, he didn’t expect to be rescued. But a gadget on board alerted the Coast Guard, saving the 70-year-old man’s life.
For more than two hours, four members of the U.S. Coast Guard had traveled in an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, battling blistering, 50-mph headwinds.
They were responding to an emergency signal — a boat was sinking in Union Bay.
In a Coast Guard video, crew members can be heard discussing the rescue: “We just need to get him out of there quick, the quicker the better.”
They’d just spotted a lone figure, clinging to a piece of debris. Seas were rough in the expanse of water between Ketchikan and Wrangell. Waves as tall as houses made it difficult to keep eyes on the figure, protected by a survival suit.
“As we made our approach to the flashing light, we lost sight of the survivor in the water with our cameras,” said Coast Guard pilot Lieutenant Justin Neal, who was in charge of the mission.
He continued: “We were in high winds, seas were 10 to 12 feet, trying to maintain a stable hover, and trying to relocate the survivor in the water. We knew he was very close to us. But there was a moment there — maybe five minutes — where we were frantically searching with our cameras to try to find him again.”
Once the crew spotted the man again, Petty Officer Grant Roberts was lowered into the water, where he spent about 20 minutes in the pitch-dark trying to reach the man, who was clinging to something in the rolling waves.
In a video released by the Coast Guard, Roberts reaches the floating debris. Roberts helps the man into the water, and lays behind him in a sort of ‘Jack and Rose at the bow of the Titanic’ pose.
By Sage Smiley, KSTK – Wrangel – ALSKA PUBLIC MEDIA