Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary and Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Hunter Simpson fly two boaters lost at sea for three days Oct. 11, 2022. US Coast Guard photo.
The two boaters had hoped to catch snapper in their 36-foot vessel, Happy Hour, but they’d been drifting in a life raft for three days.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, they’d awakened to a boat flooding with seawater and realized they’d have to abandon ship. There wasn’t even time to trip Happy Hour’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.
“They said that the vessel when it capsized, it capsized so quickly that they didn’t have time to grab the radio or the EPIRB that they did have on the vessel,” Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary, a 24-year-old elite rescue swimmer, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
The two men were 63 nautical miles off Alabama’s Dauphin Island, carried by Gulf of Mexico currents, and counted several cans of water, some food, a fishing kit, and six flares.
Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60T Jayhawk aircrew lands safely at the Pensacola Regional Airport on Oct. 11, 2022. The Coast Guard airlifted two boaters after their boat took on water. US Coast Guard photo.
They fired off some of the flares Saturday night, and they were spotted and reported to US Coast Guard watchstanders in Louisiana.
But an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from New Orleans that scrambled to investigate them never arrived. It was diverted to medevac two survivors of a grisly shipwreck along the jetties near the Plaquemines Parish hamlet of Empire.
The two mariners tried to catch something to eat, but they got no nibbles. By dawn on Tuesday, they’d expended five of the flares. One left.
Then they saw a boat in the distance. Their last flare arced into the sky.
Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Keegan O’Leary’s Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-60T Jayhawk aircrew flies towards the commercial tug Linda Moran 63 miles from Dauphin Island, Alabama, Oct. 11, 2022. The Coast Guard airlifted two boaters after their boat took on water. US Coast Guard courtesy photo.
The crew of the commercial tug Linda Moran spotted it. They changed direction and churned to the raft, O’Leary told Coffee or Die.
They fed the men and gave them water. They gave them dry clothes to wear. At 11:57 a.m., they radioed US Coast Guard Sector Mobile that the pair needed medical care, too.
“They said they didn’t really sleep the entire ordeal, maybe a couple of hours here and there, but they were pretty much awake the entire time,” O’Leary said.
Watchstanders scrambled another MH-60T Jayhawk and ordered the cutter Jacob Poroo to rendezvous with Linda Moran’s crew.
The US Coast Guard cutter Jacob Poroo was commissioned on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. The Sentinel-class fast response cutter is homeported in Pascagoula, Mississippi, but operates throughout the sea service's Eighth District. US Coast Guard photo.
O’Leary was hoisted nine stories down from the Jayhawk to the deck of the tug. That could’ve been tricky, but his crew — Lt. Jordan Fonville, Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Hunter Simpson, and Cmdr. Keith Blair, who doubles as the commanding officer of Air Station New Orleans — made it “easy.”
“There were a lot of things on deck, but there was some open room, and the crew I had was amazing,” O’Leary said.
The two mariners took turns riding up to the helicopter in a basket, and then O’Leary followed on a hook. They flew to Pensacola International Airport, where emergency medical responders were waiting for the handoff.
“They seemed to be in pretty good condition,” O’Leary said. “They were in great spirits when we picked them up. They were very excited to be going back home.”
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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.
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