Georgia's Heroes at Sea - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Georgia's Heroes at Sea

^Rescue Swimmer Shannon Scaff ^Rescue Swimmer Shannon Scaff
SAR Pilot Matthew Sanford SAR Pilot Matthew Sanford
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April 28, 2003

Savannah - The Coast Guard is the often forgotten branch of the United States military. But, the duties are no less important.

Few know the ocean and it's unpredictable nature better than the Coast Guard. And when there are troubles in the water, the Guard is Semper Paratis - Always Ready. On the water and in the air, the U.S. Coast Guard patrols the Georgia Coast. "We're in the air and in the skies 24-7," said Public Affairs Officer Dana Warr.

"You never know what you're going to get when you stand your duty," said rescue swimmer Shannon Scaff. Their mission is multi-fold - search and rescue, law enforcement, aids to navigation, and homeland security.

Boatsman 2nd Class Nicholas Ingersoll pilots a search and rescue boat based at Station Tybee Island. While, Matt Sanford pilots a dolphin helicopter. Their mission is the same, but their views are quite different.

"Most of the day is spent patrolling the coast," said Ingersoll. "We check leisure boats for proper registration and safety equipment, guide massive freighters into the port of Savannah, and comb the shoreline for vessels in distress."

"We maintain a constant look out," said Boatsman Dan Amen. When something goes wrong at sea, the Coast Guard darts into action. "It goes from boredom to stressed instantly," said Scaff. "We get every call from a flare sightings, to vessels sinking, to a lost surfer."

A boat is taking on water and those onboard are desperate for help. On this day it's just a drill, but it's a situation common along the Georgia coast. It takes everyone, boat and helicopter pilots, navigators, engineers, and rescue swimmers, working together to save a life at sea. "If you don't have teamwork, someone will get hurt," said Ingersoll.

By the time the helicopter and the boat reach the stranded vessel, a plan of rescue is plotted out. "Before you know it you're sitting in the doorway of the helicopter with your fins hanging out. It's time to do our job," said swimmer Scaff.

The task - drop a swimmer in the water to rescue an injured person on the sinking boat. "The 41 footer is approximately in position," says pilot Sanford as the drill gets underway. "The swimmer's ready," echoes a crew member. "Swimmer's up and out the door."

"The rescue swimmers are EMT certified," said Scaff.

The swimmer is on board and is met by crew from the Coast Guard boat. Now the rescue basket is lowered to the sinking boat. "Crew members pull the line to create distance between the boat and the helicopter just in case of an emergency," says Ingersoll.

The Coast Guard helicopter hovers a dangerous 50 feet above the boat. The basket is lowered, the injured person in retrieve and the basket in hoisted back in the helicopter. And, it all takes only a few minutes.

The rescue is complete and the swimmer is lifted back in the helicopter - another success.

"No one plans to be in trouble, but it happens," said Scaff. "They're scared, but they're grateful we rescue them from a scary situation."

Whether you make it out of a disaster at sea, alive or dead depends on how prepared you are to handle the worst. "Finding a person in the ocean is like finding a need in a haystack," said helicopter pilot Matt Sanford. "Have your safety equipment on the boat, you never know when you'll need to use it."

As long as the waves crash on the shore, the U.S. Coast Guard will stand ready in case you need a Hero at Sea.

Posted at 4:55PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com