The Coast Guard Air Station Savannah MH-65D Dolphin helicopter aircrew celebrates a safe landing home with a sailboat crew of three they rescued from the open ocean, over 70 miles southeast of Savannah. US Coast Guard photo.
SAVANNAH, Ga. — It took a pair of US Coast Guard helicopters and a Navy littoral combat ship, but three mariners in a sinking sailboat are alive today.
They’re just short a $1.125 million yacht.
It was approaching 4 a.m. Monday, Nov. 14, when a mariner on board the Chimera, a 1997 Hinckley 60-foot sailboat, activated the vessel's emergency position-indicating radio beacon. It warned Coast Guard District 7 watchstanders that the mariners were in trouble.
A pilot of one of the two helicopters that took turns in the rescue, Lt. j.g. Thomas Breard from Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, told Coffee or Die Magazine that aviators “didn't have to search for them at all,” thanks to the yacht’s beacon pinging out the coordinates.
Chimera’s crew consisted of three men between the ages of 60 and 70. After purchasing the vessel in Stuart, Florida, they were sailing north when it began to take on water, roughly 75 nautical miles east of the Georgia shore.
The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship Little Rock departs Naval Station Mayport on Feb. 6, 2020, for the ship’s maiden deployment. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard.
Luckily, they were within sight of the Navy’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship Little Rock.
Chimera’s crew tried to remove the salt water with their onboard pump, but their gadget failed. They borrowed a pump from Little Rock, but it also didn’t seem to work with their system.
Breard was piloting the second helicopter that arrived. The Chimera crew had asked the pilots of the first Coast Guard chopper on the scene for a third pump, but they didn't have one on board the aircraft.
So they flew back to retrieve one. When they returned, the aircrew lowered their elite rescue swimmer, Aviation Survival Technician Mark Hansen, to the deck of the yacht to help out.
But then they started running out of fuel. They left Hansen behind while they returned to shore.
The Freedom-class littoral combat ship Little Rock underway in the Caribbean Sea on Feb. 16, 2020. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marianne Guemo.
“The great thing that made everyone way more comfortable during this whole evolution was that the Navy ship stayed with us the entire time. They were talking to us and providing whatever assistance they could,” Breard said.
After the first crew returned to Savannah, they realized it was time they “bagged out” because they’d flown their maximum number of hours under Coast Guard flight regulations, according to Breard.
Watchstanders scrambled Breard’s MH-65D Dolphin rescue helicopter around 8 a.m., and they flew off with the fourth dewatering pump for the mariners to try.
When they arrived, however, Breard saw the Chimera was nearly submerged, with waves cresting a dozen feet high. While the mariners seemed reluctant to leave their sailboat behind to sink, he said they also “were ready to get off.”
“They did not think she was going to be seaworthy for much longer,” Breard told Coffee or Die.
US Coast Guard Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Jordan Spurlock hoists a mariner from the water near the sinking sailboat Chimera on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, off Georgia. Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Mark Hansen swims below. Screenshot from US Coast Guard video.
Breard estimated that their Dolphin helicopter had about 25 minutes to spend hovering over the wreck before they’d run out of fuel, too.
It didn’t help that he and co-pilot Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Snyder were helming an aircraft getting buffeted by 23-knot winds.
Manning the hoist, Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Jordan Spurlock brought up the mariners in a basket, and then he fished out rescue swimmer Hansen from the first Coast Guard crew.
Then they flew to shore.
Then-US Marine Capt. Thomas Breard, a UH-1Y Venom pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 Reinforced, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, reunites with his family after returning from a successful eight-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific, Middle East, Mediterranean, and Horn of Africa regions, Feb. 26, 2019. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Victoria Decker.
Breard called the mission the “most challenging flying” he’d done in his two years at the Savannah air station, and he was piloting at “the edge of my capabilities” and “the edge of the aircraft’s capabilities as well.”
“It was my first big wave case,” Breard said. “I was completely manually flying, which was challenging.”
But he’s not new to flying. The 34-year-old spent a decade as a utility helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps before moving over to the Coast Guard.
“It was pretty awesome and pretty fun,” he said. “And honestly coming home was a great feeling, having rescued them.”
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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