TOP TEN COAST GUARD RESCUES
• Hurricane Katrina Search and rescue operations alone saved 24,135 lives from imminent danger, usually off the roofs of the victims’ homes as flood waters lapped at their feet. Coast Guardsmen “evacuated to safety” 9,409 patients from local hospitals. In total, 33,545 souls were saved. Seventy-six Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft took part in the rescues. They flew 1,817 sorties with a total flight time of 4,291.3 hours in the air. The air crews saved 12,535. A total of 42 cutters and 131 small boats also participated, with their crews rescuing 21,200. Over 5,000 Coast Guardsmen served in Katrina operations.
• Prinsendam Rescue A fire broke out on the Dutch cruise vessel Prinsendam off Ketchikan, Alaska on 4 October 1980. The Prinsendam was 130 miles from the nearest airstrip. The cruise ship’s captain ordered the ship abandoned and the passengers, many elderly, left the ship in the lifeboats. Coast Guard and Canadian helicopters and the cutters Boutwell, Mellon, and Woodrush responded in concert with other vessels in the area. The passenger vessel later capsized and sank. The rescue is particularly important because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations and the fact that all 520 passengers and crew and crew were rescued without loss of life or serious injury.
• Pendleton Rescue On 18 February 1952 during a severe "nor’easter" off the New England coast, the T-2 tankers SS Fort Mercer and SS Pendleton broke in half. BM1 Bernard C. Webber, coxswain of motor lifeboat CG-36500, from Station Chatham, Massachusetts, and his crew of three rescued the crew of the stricken tanker Pendleton, which had broken in half. Webber maneuvered the 36-footer under the Pendleton's stern with expert skill as the tanker's crew, trapped in the stern section, abandoned the remains of their ship on a Jacobs’s ladder. One by one, the men jumped into the water and then were pulled into the lifeboat. Webber and his crew saved 33 of the 34 Pendleton crewmen. Webber and entire crew were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their heroic actions. In all, U .S. Coast Guard vessels, aircraft, and lifeboat stations, working under severe winter conditions, rescued and removed 62 persons from the foundering ships or from the water with a loss of only five lives. Five Coast Guardsmen earned the Gold Lifesaving Medal, four earned the Silver Lifesaving Medal, and 15 earned the Coast Guard Commendation Medal.
• Dorchester Rescue On 3 February 1943 the torpedoing of the transport Dorchester off the coast of Greenland saw cutters Comanche and Escanaba respond. The frigid water gave the survivors only minutes to live in the cold North Atlantic. With this in mind, the crew of Escanaba used a new rescue technique when pulling survivors from the water. This "retriever" technique used swimmers clad in wet suits to swim to victims in the water and secure a line to them so they could be hauled onto the ship. Escanaba saved 133 men (one died later) and Comanche saved 97.
• Joshua James and the Hull (MA) Life Saving Station (25-26 November 1888) Over the two day period Keeper Joshua James and his crew by their zealous and unswerving work rescued some twenty-eight people from five different vessels during a great storm. In addition to the number of individuals rescued, the number of vessels involved, the weather conditions, and the duration of their efforts, James and his crew conducted differing types of rescues which included the employment of the beach apparatus and rescue by boat. For their versatility, endurance, skill, and dedication, James and his crew were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
• The Priscilla Rescue On 18 August 1899, Surfman Rasmus S. Midgett, from the Gull Shoal Life-Saving Station (NC), was conducting a beach patrol on horseback and came upon the barkentine, Priscilla, which had run aground. Given his distance from the station, he determined to do what he could alone. Immediately, he ran as close to the wreck as he could and shouted instructions for the men to jump overboard one at a time as the waves receded. Obeying his instructions, the sailors leapt overboard. Midgett, seized each man and dragged him from the pursuing waves safely to the beach. In this manner, he rescued seven men. There were still three men on board who were too weak to get off the vessel. Midgett went into the water and carried each of them to the beach. For the ten lives he saved, Midgett was subsequently awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal.
• Keeper George N. Gray and the Charlotte (NY) Life Saving Station (14-15 December 1902) The crew received the Gold Lifesaving Medal in recognition of their rescue of 4 men and 1 woman from the wreck of the schooner John R. Noyes. They were engaged for more than a day and a night with little sleep, having been under oars from 11:30 PM of the 14th to 4:30 PM. of the 15th with the exception of about two hours. They pulled in a heavy seaway for nearly 60 miles and all were covered in ice and were frostbitten. In addition to the conditions and distances rowed, the keeper commandeered a train and sleds to move the beach cart and equipment through the deep snow drifts for the launching of the surfboat.
• Overland Rescue In 1897, eight whaling ships were trapped in the Arctic ice near Point Barrow, Alaska. Concerned that the 265 crewmen would starve during the winter, the whaling companies appealed to President William McKinley to send a relief expedition. USRC Bear sailed northward from Port Townsend, Washington in late November 1897. With no chance of the cutter pushing through the ice to Point Barrow, it was decided to put a party ashore and have them drive reindeer to Point Barrow. Lieutenant David H. Jarvis was placed in charge. He was joined by fellow officers Lieutenant Ellsworth P. Bertholf and Surgeon Samuel J. Call along with three other men. Using sleds pulled by dogs and reindeer, snowshoes, and skis, the men began the expedition on 16 December. They arrived at Point Barrow, 1,500 miles later, on 29 March 1898. The expedition managed to bring 382 reindeer to the whalers, having lost only 66. For their work, Bertholf, Call, and Jarvis received a gold medal from the United States Congress.
• Bermuda Sky Queen Rescue (14 October 1947) The American-owned flying boat Bermuda Sky Queen, carrying sixty-nine passengers was flying from Foynes, Ireland to Gander, Newfoundland. Gale force winds had slowed her progress and she was running low on fuel. Too far from Newfoundland and unable to make it back to Ireland, the captain decided to fly toward the cutter Bibb which was on Ocean Station Charlie in the North Atlantic. The plane’s captain decided to ditch and have his passengers and crew picked up by Bibb. In 30-foot seas, the transfer was both difficult and dangerous. Initially the Bibb’s captain tried to pass a line to the plane which taxied to the lee side of the cutter. A collision with the cutter ended this attempt to save the passengers. With worsening weather, a fifteen man rubber raft and a small boat were deployed from the ship. The raft was guided to the escape door of the aircraft. Passengers jumped into the raft which was then pulled to the boat. After rescuing 47 of the crew, worsening conditions and the approach of darkness forced the rescue’s suspension. By dawn, improved weather allowed the rescue to resume and the remaining passengers and crew were transferred to the Bibb. The rescue made headlines throughout the country and upon their arrival in Boston, Bibb and her crew received a hero’s welcome for having saved all those aboard the ditched Bermuda Sky Queen.
• 1937 Mississippi River Flood During the disastrous 1937 Mississippi River flood, the Coast Guard rescued a total of 43,853 persons who they “removed from perilous positions to places of safety". Additionally, they saved 11,313 head of livestock and furnished transportation for 72 persons in need of hospitalization. In all 674 Coast Guardsmen and 128 Coast Guard vessels and boats served in the relief operations. The immense scope of the operations actually eclipsed the number of persons that the Coast Guard rescued during the Hurricane Katrina operations.
• Chicamacomico (NC) Lifeboat Station (16 August 1918) On 16 August 1918 the British steamship SS Mirlo, proceeding northward along the Atlantic coast, struck a mine laid by U-117 about 1 mile off the Wimble Shoal buoy, abreast of the Chicamacomico Coast Guard Station. Her cargo of gasoline and refined oil spread over the sea and ignited. This converted the surface into a mass of flame and smoke. The matter of rescuing the crew was rendered extremely difficult owing to the heavy sea, quantities of wreckage everywhere, and the intense heat from the burning vessel and fuel. Despite these difficulties, Boatswain (L) John A. Midgett and the Chicamacomico Station crewmen forced their boat into this mass of fire and wreckage. After heroic efforts they rescued six men found clinging to a capsized boat. Midgett and his men then picked up two more boatloads (36 men) of the Mirlo’s crew and landed them through the heavy surf. The total count of those rescued was 42 persons. For their efforts, Midgett and his crew were each awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
• Carl von Paulsen Rescue LCDR Carl von Paulsen set the seaplane Arcturus in a heavy sea in January 1933 off Cape Canaveral and rescued a boy adrift in a skiff. The aircraft sustained so much damage during the open water landing that it could not take off. Ultimately, Arcturus washed onto the beach and all including the boy were saved. He was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for this rescue. The rescue made him famous and he appeared in the "Unsung Heroes" comic book in the mid-1930s.