Rescue and recovery tales from around the country and beyond. In this edition, a sobering start to the 2017 Copper River salmon season, an airlift off the coast of Georgia, and a happy ending to an international rescue effort.
Gulf & South Atlantic
Three fishermen were airlifted from the 73-foot Lady Vanessa on May 18 after the boat began taking on water near St. Simons Island, Ga.
A good samaritan first reported the trouble to the Coast Guard Sector Charleston Command Center shortly before 2 p.m., and a small-boat crew and MH-65 Dolphin helicopter were quickly dispatched from stations nearby. The helicopter crew arrived within the hour and hoisted the three fishermen out of the water. They were transported to St. Simons Island Airport for further assistance.
The 2017 Copper River salmon season got off to a sobering start with two separate incidents in stormy weather during the May 25 opening.
Veteran fisherman Clifford “Mick” Johns was found dead after going overboard from his 29-foot gillnetter Dances with Clams while fishing in the Copper River flats. A search was called after Johns’ boat was spotted circling with no one aboard, and a Coast Guard helicopter crew from Cordova spotted the fisherman unresponsive in the water. It’s not clear what caused the 69-year-old to fall overboard, and an autopsy is planned.
Rough conditions that same day likely contributed to the capsize of the 24-foot bowpicker Bad Boy. The sole fisherman aboard was safely rescued by a nearby good Samaritan aboard the fishing vessel Crown Royal. No injuries were reported.
West Coast & Pacific
Six Tongan fishermen are safe after an international rescue effort involving the U.S. Coast Guard.
Joint Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand contacted U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders at Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu on May 24 to help locate a 40-foot fishing vessel reported overdue on a voyage between the Polynesian islands of Tonumeia Island and Tongatapu.
The fishermen had been due in by 7 p.m. the previous evening, and local search teams from the community requested help when they couldn’t find the boat and crew around the islands.
A U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii — diverted as they flew back from a regional search and rescue conference in Auckland, New Zealand — were the first to spot the stricken boat about 80 miles off Tonga. Coasties in night vision goggles saw the fishermen waving a white flag and dropped supplies to the disabled vessel. Fuel constraints forced the plane to leave the scene, but not before they equipped the fishermen with a VHF radio and transponder and reported the boat’s position to their New Zealand counterparts.
The men were then rescued by the Tongan navy, with all reported to be in good condition.