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Icy Swan Rescue

Icy Swan Action Leading

A swan's life:

Story by PA2 Matthew Schofield, photos by BMC Seth Tomas:

The Coast Guard rescued a black swan on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2009, after it was stuck to the ice and was unable to free itself.  A team of four Coast Guardsmen from Station Lorain, Ohio, suited up in their MSD900 dry-suits to go out and assist the ailing animal.

The team consisted of Petty Officer 2nd Class Bradley Biddle, Fireman Robert Nelson, Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Spencer and Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Viers.

They donned the special dry-suit, which is an enclosed water-tight neoprene one-piece designed to protect them from the elements and cold water when they are immersed during a rescue.

Ice Rescue Training

"You would pull yourself up and the ice would break under you as you moved closer [to the swan]," said Nelson, describing the cutting action their bodies did to the thin (approximately 1 inch thick) ice they traversed.

The four rescuers, who are qualified or are in training as ice rescue personnel for the station, had to break ice while swimming to reach the distressed animal.

Ice Rescue Training

Nelson, a Tampa, Fl. native, graduated Dec. 5, 2008, from the Coast Guard Recruit Training Center Cape May, N.J., and he is at Station Lorain as his first duty station in the Coast Guard.

"When I joined the Coast Guard, I had never heard of ice rescue. The training is cool," said Nelson, in disbelief of the operating environment of Lorain and the unique mission of ice rescue.

They carefully approached the swan and the team was able to make sure it was free, and then guided it to shore. It was wrapped in a blanket and turned over to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Bay Village, Ohio, for further rehabilitation and aftercare.

 "We got there and it wasn't as stuck as we thought, once we got close it freed itself," said Nelson.

Ice rescue training put to use to save an animal is great practice for the crew and allows each one to solidify existing qualifications or to build new ones.  The rescue also shows how the Coast Guard's core values can remain focused on saving lives and protecting both people and the environment.