The Coast Guardsmen responsible for rescuing the crew of the fishing vessel Midnite Sun during a large storm on Feb. 11 received the Naval Helicopter Association’s 2012 Aircrew of the Year Award.
The group traveled to Norfolk, Va., to receive the award at the association’s annual symposium on May 15.
“Knowing all the difficult missions that Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard crews conduct worldwide, it is humbling to receive this award, and to be recognized for our actions among them all,” lead pilot Lt. Cmdr. Craig Neubecker said in an email. “For me, however, the real award was in knowing my prayers were answered and that we were able to complete the rescue and make it home safely.”
Around 12:40 a.m. Feb. 11, the Coast Guard received a call from the fishing vessel Sea Warrior, which heard the Midnite Sun’s mayday call on a channel the Coast Guard didn’t monitor. The Sea Warrior passed the message along.
Neubecker remembers the night vividly.
“The road to the hangar was covered with new, thick snow over all the previous ice, the wind was howling, and I remember thinking, ‘This is going to make start up and taxiing tough,’ and that turned out to be the case.”
Once the Jayhawk was airborne, the crew was able to hear the Midnite Sun crew screaming for help on the distress frequency. The Coast Guard crew realized it would have to fly directly through the stormy weather to reach the Midnite Sun in time, taking a more dangerous route than originally planned.
The Coast Guard crew battled winds over 50 mph and 18-20 foot seas, but it successfully rescued five fishermen from the 68-foot vessel. All were flown to Air Station Kodiak without injury.
“It is great that the Naval Helicopter Association selected us for this honor, but we were just doing our jobs, and we also just happened to be the crew on duty when the call came in for this mission,” Neubecker said. “This rescue was not unlike dozens of rescues that Air Station Kodiak aircrews complete each year, and every rescue is truly a team effort, involving not only the aircrews in the helicopter, but also the support personnel on the ground.”
The Naval Helicopter Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes the development of vertical lift aircraft in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The NHA recognizes servicemen who have made significant contributions and rescues with annual awards.