BOSTON — FOX25 received a rare look at how the Coast Guard trains for some of its most dramatic rescues at sea.
Blair Miller suited up one of the recent training days at the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.
“We practice all the time because when we need to use it, it’s absolutely vital. It’s life and death,” said Lt. Travis Christy, one of the helicopter pilots.
In an average year, the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod conducts 250 search and rescue cases, saving an estimated 58 lives.
“Just never underestimate the power of Mother Nature,” said Lt. Christy.
The Guardsman at Cape Cod are responsible for the waters from New Jersey to the Canadian border.
Aircraft, including their four MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters, can launch within 30 minutes of a call, in nearly any kind of rescue.
"Training's extremely important," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph. "We train like we fight."
Staph has been a rescue swimmer with the Coast Guard for six years.
He was part of a daring rescue off Nantucket in February 2015.
The crew navigated through low visibility and near hurricane force winds to save two men aboard a disable ship.
“It’s humbling because you use someone on their worst day that is on their last string and they desperately need help,” he said. “To be in that position, it's exciting but it's always humbling.”
For that rescue, Staph received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of military aviation’s most prestigious awards.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Derrick P. Suba was presented the Air Medal, another high military aviation award.
Staph is the 144th recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross in Coast Guard history.
“THIS IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS THINGS WE DO”
Helicopter rescues at sea are “probably one of the most dangerous things we do,” said Lt. Christy.
Using a go-pro camera, FOX25 got a rare look of exactly what they face.
The rescue swimmers are hoisted out of the chopper and then down, before jumping and plunging into the water.
They head to their target in the water or on a boat, rescue that person, and then hoist them to a moving Coast Guard boat or back to the helicopter.
“There's definitely a risk when you're flying a 19,000 lb. pound helicopter 35 feet above the water,” said Lt. David Garden.
“You basically have a live person at the end of a hook while a helicopter weighting almost 10 tons hovers above them, trying to put them on a moving boat that is rocking back and forth with the waves. And a lot of times when people need us the weather is less than ideal,” said Lt. Christy.
It’s a delicate operation but the crew said it is worth the risk.
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