The Coast Guard announced the recipients of the Captain Frank A. Erickson and Commander Elmer F. Stone Aviation Awards for 2021.
The Coast Guard Aviation Association sponsors these annual awards to recognize Coast Guard rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircrews who have demonstrated exceptional performance while engaged in Search and Rescue operations.
The Captain Frank A. Erickson Award is presented to the HITRON crew of CGNR 6606, LCDR Jesse Keyser, LT Rachel Rychtanek, and AET1 James Mann, in recognition of their heroic efforts during deployment aboard USCGC SENECA. On 08 November 2020, Hurricane ETA ravaged Central America with concentrated destruction and damage in Honduras, causing at least 58 deaths and over $5 billion in damage to critical infrastructure, affecting a population of 2.9 million. Attached to USCGC SENECA, the crew of CGNR 6606 reacted quickly and effectively in assisting the Honduran people from 11-13 November 2020. USCGC SENECA was diverted to the eastern coast of Honduras for Hurricane Aid/SAR support following the impact of Hurricane ETA. TACON was shifted to US Naval Forces Southern Command/US Fourth Fleet, and SENECA received tasking and operated under Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-B) and Command Task Force-45 (CTF-45). SENECA was the first maritime asset to reach the eastern side of Honduras, with CGNR 6606 as the first and sole air asset on-scene in eastern Honduras.
CGNR 6606 led response operations across a 60-square nautical mile area, from the Honduran shoreline south to the Honduras-Nicaragua border. CGNR 6606 identified and overcame the challenges of operating in an unfamiliar, rural area in foreign airspace, including inadequate and outdated charts, no air traffic control, and a substantial language barrier. CGNR 6606 acquired internet-based DoD Joint Operations Grapic (JOG) charts, assisted in reconnaissance of critical infrastructure in the region, and helped develop a working air rescue plan for relocation of trauma patients and supply aid. This important work was pivotal in laying the groundwork for sustained multi-service air support in the eastern Honduras operating area over the coming weeks.
JTF-B tasked CGNR 6606 for a MEDEVAC at a remote, inland location south of Puerto Lempira near the Honduras-Nicaragua border. The aircrew successfully navigated 60 miles of unfamiliar mountainous terrain, and flew under and around low ceilings and thunderstorms with dangerous updrafts and downdrafts. CGNR 6606 located the village, reported severe flooding, and observed significant damage to the village structures and limited infrastructure. CGNR 6606 identified a small patch of farmland as the primary landing zone and conducted a confined area landing to survivors waiving frantically for assistance. CGNR 6606 was met by two military officers in uniform escorting a third uniformed officer in evident pain. CGNR 6606 ensured the patient was ready for transport and executed low-power margin takeoff, clearing dust and debris for a rapid climb above the surrounding village obstacles. CGNR 6606 proceeded back northbound through precipitation and around localized thunderstorms to transfer the patient. CGNR 6606 was then tasked to proceed to a remote coastal village approximately 30 NM Northwest of Puerto Lempira for an urgent MEDEVAC. Once on scene, CGNR 6606 displayed ingenuity by orbiting around the village church to direct citizens to congregate there.
CGNR 6606 performed a confined area landing adjacent to the church and identified an elderly, diabetic, double amputee in need of immediate higher medical care. Low on fuel, CGNR 6606 departed to CGC SENECA offshore for refuel and subsequent return. While en route back to the village, CGNR 6606 experienced an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) yaw system failure, which significantly increased the difficulty and risk of confined area landings. CGNR 6606 elected to proceed on its assigned mission, conducted another confined area landing, and embarked the wheelchair-bound survivor. CGNR 6606 departed scene facing inclement weather and began to weigh the risks of continued confined area landings with the onset of fatigue and a degraded aircraft. CGNR 6606 identified a primitive dirt strip at the Puerto Lempira Airfield for landing and survivor transfer to an awaiting vehicle. The crew of CGNR 6606’s bravery and aeronautical skill resulted in two lives saved with several hundreds more saved and assisted through delivery of lifesaving supplies and forward operating location establishment for medical and military personnel. Leading the rescue efforts during the critical first few days of the aftermath of Hurricane ETA, the crew of CGNR 6606 demonstrated unwavering dedication to the Coast Guard’s humanitarian life-saving mission. CGNR 6606 confronted flight in an unfamiliar mountainous region with navigation hazards and landed safely in multiple unprepared confined areas. Furthermore, the aircrew leveraged local military and government officials’ expertise while managing “fog-of-war” complexities following a destructive Category 4 hurricane in a third-world country. CGNR 6606’s exceptional actions and heroism undoubtedly advanced rescue efforts for eastern Honduras for response to Hurricane ETA, as well as Hurricane IOTA, which struck the same area just ten days later.
The following nominees were also recommended for this award and deserve honorable mention for their heroic actions: Air Station Houston, CGNR 6501 – M/T CHRYSANTHEMUM CG SECTOR North Bend, CGNR 6032 – Greyback Mountain Rescue CG SECTOR San Diego, CGNR 6014 and CGNR 6003 – Disabled Adrift Rescue.
The Commander Elmer F. Stone Award is presented to the Air Station Barbers Point crew of CGNR 1720, LCDR Tucker Rodeffer, LT Jack Emmons, AMT2 Jacob Desmarais, AET3 Anders Forsberg, AEMT2 Charles Camarda, AET2 Trenton Garza, and AET3 Clinton Carpenter, in recognition of their heroic efforts on 22 December 2020, District 14 received a request from the island nation of Kiribati for assistance with Search and Rescue (SAR). A fisherman from Betio Temakin, Tarawa, had disembarked three friends at an atoll to go spearfishing. When he did not return in his 20 ft wooden skiff, they notified the authorities. Since all possible staging locations for the case were closed due to COVID-19, the Air Station Barbers Point duty crew worked with State Department officials and the Republic of the Marshall Islands to secure Kwajalein Atoll, the first time a Coast Guard crew had been allowed landing access since the pandemic began.
After arriving in Kwajalein, the CGNR 1720 crew was placed in strict quarantine when not in flight and subject to daily screenings involving twice daily temperature and blood oxygen checks, a protocol and operational template which has since been implemented to enable numerous SAR crews to operate from this location. The search effort involved five days deployed away from home station and consisted of 29.4 hours of searching and a total of 45.2 hours flown. During three days of searching, the crew flew four hours round-trip from Kwajalein and navigated more than 500 NM through convective activity, embedded thunderstorms, and turbulence to reach the search area.
On the final day of the search and in the last search box, the Basic Aircrewman sighted an object in the water from the left hand scanner window. The Sensor System Operator quickly identified the object as the missing skiff. The survivor was clearly emaciated from spending five days at sea without food or water. The Navigator detected a fishing vessel 25 NM north of the skiff, but a language barrier prevented effective communication. Working with a translator at District 14, the Radio Operator vectored a good-Samaritan vessel, the F/V JABUUK, toward the skiff. After two hours on-scene, the Flight Engineer of CGNR 1720 noticed an unidentified, co-altitude helicopter en-route to their position. CG-1720 quickly maneuvered to de-conflict with the other aircraft and assisted with expediting the rescue. The helicopter had launched from the F/V JABUUK. CGNR 1720 remained on-scene and served as cover while the good Samaritan and the helicopter rescued the emaciated fisherman.
Superior airmanship, comprehensive aircraft and procedural knowledge, well-veiled operational risk management, and exceptional crew coordination all combined to successfully complete the unit’s most complex rescue of 2020 resulting in one life saved.