(Courtesy of The Coast Guard Compass blog)
Can you imagine what it would be like to deploy out of a helicopter over rocky cliffs and turbulent seas and swim in and back out of a cave with raging waves to rescue someone. Almost like a Hollywood movie, isn’t it?
Well, it was real life for Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Robert Emley last Saturday evening off the coast of Tillamook, Oregon. A paraglider’s jump off a popular cliff on Cape Lookout went wrong and left her clinging to cliff wall before she fell into the turbulent water. Onlookers who witnessed the alarming incident called 911 for help where dispatchers quickly notified the Coast Guard.
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and air crew from Air Station Astoria immediately launched and within about 30 minutes had located the glider with the help of people pointing in her direction. The air crew saw her floating face up with the help of air trapped in her paraglider. As the women slipped inside a deep cave at the base of a 200-foot cliff, the rescue swimmer, AST3 Robert Emley, prepared to deploy. Once in the water, he timed the 6-foot seas that threatened to push him into the cliff side. AST3 Emley was able to catch a wave that pushed him into the cave where he grabbed a hold of the paraglider and swam free of the cave.
As he was approaching the survivor, AST3 Emley said, “I wanted to make sure she was conscious and once I knew I verbally informed her with everything that I was going to do.” He assessed the survivor and could tell she was very lethargic and suffering from advanced hypothermia. While holding the survivor’s head above water, he used a J-hook shroud cutter to cut the parachute lines to prevent the chute from entangling both himself and the survivor.
Because the seas and the helicopter rotorwash were pushing the swimmer and survivor towards the cliff side, AST3 Emley called off the initially attempted 60-foot hoist out of the water. The helicopter pilots, LT Kevin Rapp and LTJG Stephen Drauszewski, increased altitude to 150-feet and the flight mechanic, AET2 Josh Hollingshead, deployed the rescue basket. AST3 Emley was able to safely load the survivor into the basket where she was hoisted into the helicopter. After getting the survivor onboard, AET2 Hollingshead retrieved AST3 Emley by his harness from the water.
Despite suffering advanced hypothermia, the woman was reportedly in stable condition after an overnight stay in the hospital.
According to LT Rapp, Aircraft Commander, “During the post flight debrief, we all shook Rob’s hand and I said to him, ‘That was Bravery… and a very honorable thing!’” Chief Jim Dickerson from Netarts Fire Department said, ”The bravery and courage of the swimmer going into the cave with the victim who was still attached to her paraglider really stands out for the Coast Guard. Devotion to Duty comes to mind immediately and describes the entire crew… Special thanks to the rescue swimmer who risked alot to save alot.”
According to AST3 Emley, he felt it was a successful rescue because of the entire air crew. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that it wouldn’t have been possible without the rest of the air crew that day.”
Yes, this was a dramatic and daring rescue but it was all in a day’s work for the air crew. That same crew had five search and rescue cases in 12 hours that day. LT Rapp even mentioned that on the subsequent cases, AST3 Emley’s drysuit was still wet.