Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Coast Guard Crew to Receive High National Honors for Rescuing Trapped Firefighters (with Video)

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 2:47 PM

click to enlarge A screenshot from a video capturing the U.S. Coast Guard's rescue of two injured firefighters from the Middle Fire.
  • A screenshot from a video capturing the U.S. Coast Guard's rescue of two injured firefighters from the Middle Fire.
A flight crew with Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay will be honored with prestigious national awards Thursday for their role in rescuing two injured firefighters trapped on a mountainside being engulfed in flames during last year’s Middle Fire.

Lt. Cmdr. Derek Schramel, the aircraft commander, and Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis, a rescue swimmer, will be presented with Distinguished Flying Cross Awards while Lt. j. g. Adam Ownbey, the co-pilot, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, the flight mechanic, will receive Air Medals, according to a news release.

The public is invited to observe the ceremony scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on the Sector Humboldt Bay Facebook page.

“Battling bouts of vertigo, fire updrafts, and night vision device blinding, the crew established a prolonged precision hover above a narrow 20-by-30 foot hoisting area, surrounded by towering trees with wildfire flanking the zone on three sides,” the release states. “The firefighters were hoisted expeditiously despite the crew having to overcome fatigue and choking smoke that filled the helicopter cabin. The firefighters were successfully rescued and delivered to advanced medical care, saving their lives.”
The release notes the Distinguished Flying Cross is “our nation's highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement” and is awarded to “recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.” The prestigious Air Medal, the release states, “is presented to an Armed Forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight during the rescue of survivors.”

Rear Adm. Penoyer will present the awards for the crews’ service during the Sept. 16, 2019 rescue.

“The flight crew's outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard,” the release states.
Read the full Coast Guard release below:


MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. - Coast Guard Rear Admiral Bryan Penoyer is presenting awards to a Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay flight crew during an official ceremony scheduled Thursday to view via live stream.

The public is invited to observe the ceremony on the Sector Humboldt Bay Facebook page, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. PDT.

Rear Adm. Penoyer will present Lt. Cmdr. Derek Schramel, the aircraft commander, and Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis, a rescue swimmer, with Distinguished Flying Cross Awards and Lt. j. g. Adam Ownbey, the co-pilot, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, the flight mechanic, with Air Medals.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is our nation's highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.

The Air Medal is a prestigious award that is presented to an Armed Forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight during the rescue of survivors.

The crew are being presented these awards after successfully completing the rescue of two injured firefighters who were unable to evacuate a mountainside being engulfed in flames during the Middle Fire.

The U. S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard's assistance with the medevac of two firefighters who had sustained injuries while battling the Middle Fire on Sept. 6, 2019. The firefighters were surrounded by steep, wooded terrain with the advancing wildfire threatening to burn over their position.

The aircrew prepared for a high-risk rescue in a rugged mountain valley with limited visibility due to widespread smoke and minimal room for error. Battling bouts of vertigo, fire updrafts, and night vision device blinding, the crew established a prolonged precision hover above a narrow 20-by-30 foot hoisting area, surrounded by towering trees with wildfire flanking the zone on three sides. The firefighters were hoisted expeditiously despite the crew having to overcome fatigue and choking smoke that filled the helicopter cabin.

The firefighters were successfully rescued and delivered to advanced medical care, saving their lives. The flight crew's outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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