By Chris Philips, Managing Editor
Last month Fishermen’s News Contributing Editor Terry Dillman wrote about the US Coast Guard’s decision to close the Newport, Oregon air rescue facility and the effect that decision could have on the lives of the region’s commercial fishermen. Coast Guard officials claimed the remaining Oregon Coast air stations at Astoria and North Bend, along with a new electronic monitoring network in place all along the entire Pacific Coast, would offer sufficient coverage to the waters off Newport.
In last month’s piece, Terry Dillman described the efforts being made by the Newport Fishermen’s Wives (www.newportfishermenswives.com) to lobby their state and federal representatives to keep the helicopter in Newport. The group even sued the Coast Guard in federal court in Eugene, asking a judge to block the Coast Guard’s plans.
Newport is about 40 minutes away at cruising speed for the MH-65 Dolphins stationed at North Bend, and an hour for the MH-60 Jayhawks from Astoria.
On November 29th, while fishermen in Newport were reading the December Fishermen’s News with Terry’s story, five commercial fishermen were fighting for their lives off the Oregon Coast.
At 4:17 a.m ., Coast Guard Sector North Bend watchstanders received a mayday call over VHF-FM radio channel 16 from the crew of the 75-foot fishing vessel Blazer saying that they were disabled, taking on water, and jettisoning their crab pots.
The weather was reportedly winds at 30 to 35 mph with seas of 15 feet and rain.
A 47-foot Motor Life Boat was dispatched from Coast Guard Station Depoe Bay, Oregon at 4:41 a.m. and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Facility Newport, Oregon launched at 4:45 a.m.
The helicopter crew from Newport located the heavily listing fishing vessel and its crew nearby in a life raft, at 5:04 a.m. and lowered a rescue swimmer into the water to assess the condition of the crewmembers in the life raft.
After everyone in the life raft was accounted for, the Dolphin crew hoisted three of the survivors into the aircraft. The motor lifeboat arrived on scene at 6 a.m. and transferred the remaining two survivors to the Coast Guard boat.
There is no doubt that the US Coast Guard helicopter crew saved five lives that morning. The same helicopter crew that was considered surplus by the budget office was spared the axe because of the local efforts of groups like the Newport Fishermen’s Wives to motivate their elected representatives. Credit is also due to the bipartisan group of politicians who recognized the folly of removing air support from our coastline and fought to make it a national issue, finding a way around the problem and passing a bill that blocks the Coast Guard from closing helicopter air stations at Newport and Charleston, S.C.
The bill, which passed the Senate and the House on December 10th, requires the Coast Guard to keep its air stations open through Jan. 1, 2016.
This column is often critical of politicians, so allow us to note that credit for keeping the Dolphin crew at Newport belongs to the Fishermen’s Wives, but also to the lawmakers who acted on behalf of their constituents to right a bureaucratic wrong. Those Congresspeople include Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as representatives from Oregon Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer and South Carolina representatives Mark Sanford and Tom Rice, as well as California. Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. Their actions will save more fishermen.
Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org