In his first live mission, a US Coast Guard (USCG) rescue swimmer medevaced a man from a bulk carrier ship in the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles east of Galveston, and his crew delivered the man to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for treatment on 25 April. A ship’s representative for the Bahamian-flagged Blackfin contacted USCG Sector Houston Galveston watchstanders at 07:18 hrs to report that the chief engineer was suffering from abdominal and back pain. At 130 miles from shore, a USCG flight surgeon determined that the ship was too far and his symptoms were to severe to wait for their return to port, and an Air Station Houston MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and crew were diverted to rescue the man. An HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crew from Air Station Mobile, Alaska, provided communications cover and helped prepare the ship’s crew for the medevac procedure.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Vicchiariello, a newly-qualified rescue swimmer from Air Station Houston, was lowered more than 100 ft (30 m) to the deck of the ship on his first search and rescue case. The pilots then held their position in 20 to 25-knot winds while avoiding the ship’s loading cranes as the man was hoisted up to the helicopter.
“I was nervous at first, because it was the real deal,” said Vicchiariello. “It was a good experience. Helping people is something I always wanted to do.”
The engineer was delivered to a hospital in Galveston at about 14:30 hrs in stable condition.
“The geographic separation between our responding units in Mobile, New Orleans and Houston working together to assist someone in acute pain offshore, was impressive,” commented Lt Matthew Walter, a command duty officer at the sector. “Co-ordinating information to locate a vessel reportedly 100 miles offshore, with a crew that barely spoke English, was a challenging task.”