Atlantic City Coast Guard Copter Performs Harrowing Rescues


 
 

By Stephan Salisbury; Inquirer Culture Writer | | Thursday, November 8, 2012


No one at the Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City had any doubt the night of Oct. 29 that Sandy would be as close to a perfect storm as they were likely to see.

Mayday calls came in early and heavy, and at first light the next day, Lt. Andrew Zuckerman piloted his MH-65 Delta helicopter, with Lt. Skylar Swenson in the copilot seat, out of Brigantine and rotored north toward New York City.

"It was eerie," said Swenson, 34. "Big waves coming in, high tide, destruction, and chaos. You know you're going to be the first to see it all from the air, but you don't know what it is you're going to see."

What the four-member crew saw, Swenson said, was "surreal," a transformed landscape with water carving away the planet's sandy skin with ferocity.

In Ocean County, "there was water everywhere on shore, and whole sides of houses were missing," said Swenson, of Ocean City. "There were stairs that once led to the beach, but were now sticking up 30 feet in the air. Waves were coming in high. Cars were rolled on their sides. Boats were rolled on their sides. Vessels were on top of each other. Vessels were on the dock. It was maritime madness."

A fire burned through one town, he said, blackening what looked to be dozens of homes. In Brick, fire burned in the wake of a gas explosion.

"This was mind-boggling," Swenson said. "We're not even in New York yet."

And everywhere, the howling wind and slash of rain.

In Sandy Hook, Monmouth County, the crew passed over more homes knocked over and a 20-foot sand cliff, evidence of violent "hydraulic erosion."

In New York, where the crew's task was simply to "find anyone needing help and to provide assistance," they had more than they could handle. Toward Breezy Point in Queens, fires raged. Water spread across what had been street and field. A tattered American flag whacked against a tall pole. Homes were blown apart.

Flying back over Staten Island, the rescue team spotted two men on one roof, an elderly couple on another. Low on fuel, the crew made the decision to hoist the couple and leave the men for another run or another crew.

"That's one of the hard things about being a first-responder," Swenson said, "having to make those choices."

By the end of the day, the crew had made several refueling trips to Morristown, N.J., returning to hoist about seven people to safety, and alerting the New York City police to others trapped in homes or in formerly placid and dry yards. They also had to make more hard choices.

One woman, stranded in her flooding home, refused to leave a beloved standard poodle behind. Rescuers could not risk hoisting the dog.

"She had tears streaming down her face," Swenson said, "and she said, 'I'm not going.' We had do say, 'OK,' and move to the next house."

One person after another - a man from a burning house, his face and hands blackened from beating out smoldering embers; a mother with a 6-month-old baby - all found refuge in the helicopter until the MH-65 developed mechanical problems and had to return to base.

"That was the most disappointing and sad part of the day," Swenson said. "We were on a roll and had to stop."
Contact Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @SPSalisbury.



Copyright © 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, coast guard saves, Staten Island, Frankenstorm, hurricane sandy, Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS





 

Get JEMS in Your Inbox

 

Fire EMS Blogs


Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts

 

EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Progress

Follow in the footsteps of these inspirational leaders of EMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Four Killed in New Mexico Medical Plane Crash

Crash near fairgrounds claims patient and crew of three.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Texas Ambulance Involved in Crash

Odessa ambulance and car collide during response.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Las Vegas Fire, AMR Reach New Deal

Tentative agreement reached over ambulance calls.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Fire Damages Several Homes in California Earthquake

Four homes destroyed and others damaged after quake rattles Napa.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

New Mexico Air Ambulance Crash

NTSB investigates crash that killed four.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Where in the World of EMS is A.J.? Scranton

JEMS Editor-in-Chief visits his hometown of Scranton, Pa.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Over 100 Injured in California Earthquake

172 patients treated at Napa hospital after 6.0-magnitude earthquake.
More >


Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >


Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >


More Product Videos >