On Jan. 24, 2012, crews of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak in Alaska responded to distress calls from the fishing vessels Kimberly and Heritage. Over the course of 14 hours, the rescuers battled hurricane-force winds and 25-foot seas to save 11 fishermen. Capt. William Deal (retired) discussed the overnight rescue on behalf of the heroes, who also appear on the Weather Channel’s Coast Guard Alaska show.
With a storm in the forecast, did the base prepare differently for the night?
We knew it was going to be a bad winter storm, but we get those all the time. We didn’t really think it was going to be out of the ordinary. It was about 60 knots en route, but on scene it was more than 100 knots.
How did the rescue unfold?
We launched a helicopter only at first. The crew tried everything they could to rescue the people. The winds were too high; they couldn’t get the basket down. Then, they also lost communications.
We also launched the C130 that had been pre-deployed to Anchorage [due to weather conditions]. The plane was en route about the same time the helicopter needed to leave for fuel. From that point on, we had continuous air coverage, but it was a series of helicopters and C130s.
How many crews did it take to complete the rescue?
We went through four complete helicopter crews and three C130 crews. As the third crew headed out, they overheard the Mayday call from the Heritage. They diverted to that case and rescued those people.
It sounds like a lot of pieces in motion.
It was crazy; I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. We’re able to adapt to whatever is the highest priority thing at the time. In fact, our motto is supposed to be Semper Paratus (“Always Ready”), but we like to say Semper Gumby (“Always Flexible”).
The fishing vessel crews sound like seasoned boaters that were caught off guard.
They were incredible, particularly the crew of the Kimberly. They are some of the toughest people I’ve ever met to be out there in those horrendous conditions, figuring they didn’t have much longer to live, and seeing helicopter after helicopter unable to do the rescue. They kept their calm and managed to make it through.