Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Today's Catch: Getting the Message

While addressing communications and navigational electronics in this issue of Fishermen’s News, we noted that one of the most important uses of communications equipment in the fishing industry is for safety – calling a medical team to diagnose an injury or illness, contacting a fellow fisherman for weather information or the ultimate safety call: sending a mayday to the US Coast Guard.

No matter how advanced your equipment, if there’s no one to answer the call at the other end, you’re in trouble. Fortunately, the US Coast Guard is always ready (semper paratus) to respond to life threatening situations.

Late on the night of June 29th, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River received a distress call from the crew of the 52-foot fishing vessel Quest saying the boat was quickly taking on water. The crew couldn’t dewater the vessel fast enough to keep it afloat and were told to don survival gear and abandon the boat while a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Station Grays Harbor in Westport and an MH-60 helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria were sent to assist.

The helicopter crew arrived on scene at midnight to find three people in a liferaft and one in the water. A rescue swimmer was deployed to assist the crewmember in the water and then all four were hoisted into the helicopter and transported to Bowerman Airfield in Hoquiam, Washington, to be examined by emergency medical personnel. There were no reported injuries.

The 47-foot motor lifeboat crew arrived to locate the vessel, assess the risk of pollution and collect the vessel’s EPIRB from the water. The Quest sank with an estimated 250 gallons of diesel fuel on board, but there were no signs of pollution.

A few days later, on the morning of July 3rd, the Coast Guard received an EPIRB notification with no indication of location. The EPIRB was registered to the fishing vessel Sound Leader, homeported in Newport, Oregon. After repeatedly attempting to contact the vessel over the radio, the Coast Guard received additional information from the vessel’s EPIRB indicating its position approximately three miles west of Newport.

Coast Guard Group North Bend, Oregon, launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Station Yaquina Bay in Newport and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station North Bend. Both crews arrived at the last position indicated by the EPIRB, located a debris field and spotted three people in the water.

The Dolphin crew hoisted two of the survivors to the helicopter and transported them to Air Facility Newport where they were placed in the care of local EMS. The 47-foot motor lifeboat crew recovered a third survivor from the water who was transported to Station Yaquina Bay and placed in the care of local EMS.

A 47-foot motor lifeboat crew, a 25-foot response boat crew from Station Yaquina Bay and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Facility Newport remained on scene to search for a fourth crewmember, who was never found.

In both rescues, the radio and EPIRB were key pieces of equipment, but without the Coast Guard’s response the outcome would have been much different. Many of you reading this today may have been rescued by the US Coast Guard at some point in your career, and many more of you might be in the future. They’ll show up if you call them. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to bring your local Coasties a plate of cookies or a fresh salmon for the barbecue once in a while, to say thanks.

Chris Philips

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