Coast Guard Arctic Rescue: Garbage Weather, Sharks, a Murderous Bear, and a Baby To Save

November 3, 2021Noelle Wiehe
garbage weather US Coast Guard coffee or die

A Coast Guard Air Station crew on board an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter from Forward Operating Location Kotzebue, Alaska, Sept. 18, 2021. US Coast Guard photo by Lt. Scott Kellerman.

As US Coast Guard Lt. Kyle Murphy remembers it, the wind and rain whipping off the Bering Sea made for “garbage” weather, but his crew had no choice but to land their MH-60T Jayhawk rescue helicopter near the Nightmute Clinic.

They had a baby to save.

They got the call around 8:15 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on Oct. 7. The 2-month-old boy was a preemie, born at 30 weeks, and he was struggling to breathe. He needed immediate care, but a hamlet with only 317 residents didn’t have the resources to provide it.

Murphy’s mission was to lift off at dawn, flying 423 miles south from the Coast Guard Arctic Shield Forward Operating Location in Kotzebue to Bethel, the largest city along the Kuskokwim River.

US Coast Guard garbage weather
A Coast Guard Air Station crew on board an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter, forward deployed to Kotzebue, Alaska, for Operation Arctic Shield, Oct. 1, 2021. US Coast Guard photo by Lt. Scott Kellerman.

There, he’d refuel and pick up a medical team and rush them another 103 miles east to Nightmute, so they could treat the baby en route back to Bethel.

Murphy called the mission a “puzzle” because everything had to go right for it to work. But it’s a puzzle he and his crew had to solve or they risked a baby dying.

“We decided that would be the best way to do it, because, like, that’s the last thing we want is to have the baby not survive the transit because we lost the level of care,” he told Coffee or Die Magazine.

They flew the mission, made their rendezvous with the medical team in Bethel, and then tucked their helicopter into the tundra about a mile from the Nightmute Clinic. It was around 11 a.m. on Oct. 8.  

garbage weather
US Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Dan Wilson from Air Station Kodiak helps rescue a 2-month-old baby on Oct. 8, 2021. The Coast Guard crew flew the baby and his mother from Nightmute to Bethel, Alaska. US Coast Guard photo by Avionics Electrical Technician 1st Class Jacob Dillon.

“And so they got on four-wheelers and sped off into the distance there, and we just stayed with the aircraft running. We didn’t shut down or anything,” Murphy said.

They were back at Bethel at 12:20 p.m., according to Coast Guard spokesperson Public Affairs Chief Kip Wadlow in Anchorage.

Murphy’s crew flew back to Kotzebue. Once his health stabilized, the baby boarded a plane in Bethel to fly to Anchorage for advanced care.

“The fact that the baby has probably been all over the state of Alaska in its very short life span is pretty incredible,” Murphy told Coffee or Die. “Already been on a helicopter and a jet. It’s pretty amazing just what the baby’s already been through.”

The Coast Guard wrapped up the annual Arctic Shield operations on Sunday, Oct. 31. Over the span of four months, aircrews flew 15 search and rescue missions, saving 18 lives and assisting seven other people in distress.

garbage weather US Coast Guard
US Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Dan Wilson from Air Station Kodiak joins a medical team member from LifeMed during the rescue of a baby in Nightmute, Alaska. US Coast Guard photo by Avionics Electrical Technician 1st Class Jacob Dillon.

“This season, Coast Guard Forward Operating Location Kotzebue was as busy as ever serving remote Alaskan communities, hunters, and mariners throughout the Arctic,” Capt. Nathan Coulter, the commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, told Coffee or Die.

But there’s little point in wintering over in Kotzebue. The pack ice is building, prodding the commercial fishing boats south to warmer seas.

“The number of people out on the water drops off significantly; like, nobody’s on the water,” Coulter said. “The Coast Guard kind of goes away when it all turns to ice and we just don’t have anybody out there doing the normal maritime activities that we respond to.” 

Some of the crew members who operated out of Kotzebue during the summer will stand up a similar base in Cold Bay during the winter and spring crab harvest, but others have returned to home ports peppering the hemisphere.

Murphy and his crew are at Air Station Kodiak, where they patrol the state’s southern waters.

US Coast Guard operates in garbage weather and under blue skies
The command and crew of the US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy off Portsmouth, Virginia, Oct. 24, 2021. The cutter crew deployed to conduct operational ice testing, strengthen relationships with partner nations, project US presence, and protect US sovereignty rights along the shared US-Russia maritime boundary line. US Coast Guard photo by Lt. Dana Grady.

Cutters Hickory and Kukui, 225-foot seagoing buoy tenders, have departed the Bering Sea for Homer and Sitka.

The 418-foot Legend-class cutters Midgett and Kimball returned to Honolulu, Hawaii, after sailing the Bering Strait for 16 days. That’s a week less than the 420-foot Seattle-based polar icebreaker Healy spent in the same area before steaming far south to Virginia.

During Arctic Shield operations this year, Coast Guard personnel from the 17th District and Sector Anchorage inspected 128 facilities and 470 commercial fishing vessels, assisted by a Maritime Safety and Security Team from San Francisco.

Fishing vessel safety is important to the Coast Guard. Coulter said one of his helicopters rescued four fishermen who had abandoned their sinking boat about 75 miles offshore.

“It’s exciting, and that’s kind of why we all joined the Coast Guard, being able to be out there and save lives,” he said.

US Coast Guard shark fins
A US Coast Guard cutter Bertholf boarding team member holds a shark fin while on board a foreign vessel, Sept. 23, 2021. US Coast Guard photo.

Midgett and the California-based cutter Bertholf also met up at sea with their peers in the Japanese navy, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Russian Border Guard.  

In late September, an international fisheries enforcement team from Canada, South Korea, and the US Coast Guard boarded a series of commercial ships in the North Pacific Ocean, seizing 450 shark fins tied to 32 potential violations of fishing law.

But it was a very different sort of carnivore that triggered another Coast Guard rescue.

Foul weather forced a helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak to make a detour during a July 16 training mission.

US Coast Guard bear attack rescue
A remote mining camp near Nome, Alaska, where a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aircrew rescued the survivor of a bear attack July 16, 2021. US Coast Guard photo.

“We’re always training to prepare for the real deal,” said Cmdr. George Cottrell, operations officer for Air Station Kodiak. “That’s a huge part of what we do up here is just train, train, train.” 

The crew spotted a man near Nome, waving at them with both hands from atop a shack. On the roof was scrawled “SOS” and “help.” Something had ripped a door below off its hinges.

They landed, and the man told them that he was nearly out of pistol ammo. For nearly a week, a brown bear had kept returning to maul him. His leg and torso weren’t in good shape.

“It was a six-shot revolver and there were only two shots left,” said Air Station Kodiak’s Lt. Cmdr. Jared Carbajal, who cleared the pistol himself.

“What he had stated was that he had tried to scare the bear off by shooting at it, or to scare it away, but it kept coming back,” added Cottrell. “And he was unable to sleep and just absolutely exhausted in this situation.”

What Carbajal remembered vividly is the sense of intense relief etched on the man’s face when they rescued him.

“I think the thing that’s crazy about that is just the whole, you know, just like fate,” Carbajal said. “I mean, just the whole, the way it all went down that we were actually in a different valley and then the clouds moved in and we hopped over the valley. … Whether divine intervention or whatever like it was, is it was just kind of cool that we were having to go right over that guy. See him jump and wave us down. So as rescues go, it wasn’t that hard. But it was just kind of cool.”

To the station’s skipper, Coulter, it’s all just another day in a Coast Guard that’s always ready to rescue people, on land or at sea.

“And that’s really true all across the Coast Guard, wherever we’re at whether you’re on the southern border, or you’re out there in the Caribbean, or you’re butting up against Canada,” he said. “We’ve done search and rescue cases for Korean fishing vessels. We’ve done medevacs off of foreign-flagged vessels. Those things just happen.”

Read Next: Inside the Coast Guard’s Mass Rescue of Stranded Ice Fishermen on Wisconsin’s Sturgeon Bay

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved