USCG: An Unprecedented 7,000 Foot Rescue


Dramatic Rescue Shows Impact of New Equipment on U.S. Coast Guard Ability to Provide Life Saving Services

On March 19th, 2010 at the Elizabeth City USCG facility, SLD talked with the current Executive Officer of the USCG Aviation Technical Training Center (ATTC) about a dramatic rescue conducted three years ago at 7.000 feet on the West Coast, in which he played a key role in hoisting an injured climber to safety.

In the video below, LCDR Daniel Leary briefly discusses the rescue and underscores the impact of having the newly re-engined helicopter on USCG capabilities and the ability to provide for public safety and security.

On May 27th, 2007, the Coast Guard hoisted a 64-year-old injured male off of Brother Mountain in Port Angeles, Washington, after local authorities notified Coast Guard Sector Seattle that a 64-year-old male had been injured and was immobile on the summit. A HH-65C Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles hoisted the injured male from an altitude of just over 7,000 feet, the highest altitude rescue ever performed by the Coast Guard in the region.

This rescue demonstrates the synergy between man and machine in delivering capability for public safety and security. For many years the U.S. Coast Guard operated helicopters and fixed wing aircraft capable of water landings under certain conditions. Advantages for this capability and its limitations are obvious.

During the early 1980s, the Coast Guard selected the HH-65 Dolphin as its short-range recovery helicopter, and it has been the workhorse of the services short-range fleet for years. More than 90 are in service. Before the recent introduction of the National Security Cutter produced by the Deepwater Program, the Dolphin was the only Coast Guard helo capable of routine operations from its ships. It has an empty weight of just over 6,000 pounds and a maximum gross weight of more than 9,000 pounds. It was the first of the services’ helos without a water landing capability. Amphibian helos were completely phased out with the transition to the HH-60 for medium range search and recovery. This created a need for the rescue swimmer program made famous by hundreds of dramatic rescues, as well as Kevin Costner and the movie, “The Guardian.”

The Dolphin’s weight grew over the years because of mission changes. More powerful engines were required, and Turbomeca 2C2 engine was selected: two were installed on each Dolphin helo with funding from the Deepwater Program. Coast Guard helos routinely respond to land emergencies, as you will note in the video interview. Obviously the higher-powered engines provide vital extra margins of safety should there be a problem during critical evolutions such as hoist operations.

The Dolphin’s new and more powerful engines enabled this miraculous rescue, but an incredibly skillful crew with nerves of steel made it happen.

And a senior USCG official added:

The difference between the Alpha and a Charlie model and putting new engines is, in the old days, when you used to brief hoist, you would say if the engine fails, we are going in the water period.  There is no chance that you are going to swim out of this.  You are going to fly out of it.  Now, we brief if an engine fails, we are going to fly the aircraft out.  You could not do that with an A model.  The crew is going to die if you lost an engine.  And we lost engines routinely.  The issue of hoisting at 7,000 feet, I do not know how many rescues we actually do with that altitude.  But every day we go out and we hoist with that aircraft low over the water.  And in the old days, if the engine failed, you are going to go under water.  And now if the engine fails, you have got a 50/50 or better chance that you are going to fly it out on a single engine.  That is the difference in the C model aircraft versus the old engines.


*** Posted on April 5th, 2010

Updated with senior USCG official comment on April 13, 2010