Remote rescues

Written by Lt. Anastacia Visneski

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer stands on the ice off the North Shore of Alaska during a recent search and rescue exercise. The exercise tested search and rescue capabilities throughout the remote region with area partners. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer stands on the ice off the North Shore of Alaska during a recent search and rescue exercise. The exercise tested search and rescue capabilities throughout the remote region with area partners. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

To say that the North Shore of Alaska is a remote place is an understatement. The North Shore borders the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea, two marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean. Even in the middle of July, the waters in the area are still icy with large ice flows in many areas. It is not hard to see that conducting search and rescue, one of the Coast Guard’s core missions in the area, presents unusual challenges.

It was through that ice that Coast Guard Cutter Healy made a path last week to conduct an interagency search and rescue exercise. The exercise was designed to test new technologies using unmanned aerial systems and identify benefits to cooperative search efforts between federal and industry partners.

The exercise, which included the Coast Guard, ConocoPhilips, Era Group Inc. and Boeing-Insitu, simulated a downed small plane, leaving a six man raft with survivors offshore in the ice.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy was the at-sea platform for the exercise.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks through ice in the Arctic circle, July 14, 2015. This image was taken by an Aerostat, a self-contained, compact platform that can deploy multiple sensor payloads and other devices into the air. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks through ice in the Arctic circle, July 14, 2015. This image was taken by an Aerostat, a self-contained, compact platform that can deploy multiple sensor payloads and other devices into the air. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

With teams for two different types of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, aboard, the intention was to locate the target then vector in a Coast Guard MH-60 rescue helicopter and an Era Group Inc. helicopter to the right location.

“One of the things that’s unique about Healy, is that we talk about interagency and cooperation, we get to demonstrate that on a daily basis,” said Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Cutter Healy.

Working in conjunction with the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, the crew of the Healy lowered a “thermal Oscar,” a rescue dummy, out into the water.

This rescue dummy was tied to a six man emergency raft. Once this was done the Healy steamed away from the raft and moved into the second phase of the exercise.

An Era Helicopters crew lowers a Priority 1 Air Rescue swimmer into the Arctic Ocean during a joint search and rescue exercise near Oliktok Point, Alaska, July 13, 2015. The Era and Priority 1 crew joined the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, ConocoPhillips Co. and Insitu Inc. to assess unmanned aircraft systems for use in Search and Rescue and to further understand how to collaborate on the North Slope during response operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

An Era Helicopters crew lowers a Priority 1 Air Rescue swimmer into the Arctic Ocean during a joint search and rescue exercise near Oliktok Point, Alaska, July 13, 2015. The Era and Priority 1 crew joined the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, ConocoPhillips Co. and Insitu Inc. to assess unmanned aircraft systems for use in Search and Rescue and to further understand how to collaborate on the North Slope during response operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

At the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau, Alaska, the command center received a call that a plane had gone down in the Beaufort Sea, cuing the start of the exercise from shore-based units. On the North Shore, a Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter and an Era Group Inc. helicopter were put on standby while an unmanned aerial system called a ScanEagle was launched to look for the raft. On the second day when the exercise was run again, a second UAS called a Puma was used.

Once the raft was located, the information was passed to the helicopter team, vectoring them to the rescue location. On the second day of the exercise the helicopter teams lowered rescue swimmers when they arrived on scene.

The exercise not only tested the abilities for search by a multiagency group, it also successfully tested communication capabilities, including the ability to pass control of a UAS from shore to an underway asset.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Kevin Vollbrecht launches a Puma unmanned aerial vehicle from the bow of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy July 11, 2015.  The Puma is being tested for flight and search and rescue capabilities. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Kevin Vollbrecht launches a Puma unmanned aerial vehicle from the bow of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy July 11, 2015. The Puma is being tested for flight and search and rescue capabilities. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

With increasing traffic through the Northwest Passage, exercises like this are important for Coast Guard readiness in the Arctic. Building and testing partnerships during exercises helps to increase operational capabilities throughout this remote region.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy is currently underway preparing for Geotraces 2015, which will take her to the North Pole. This will be the first time a U.S. icebreaker has journeyed to the North Pole completely unaccompanied.

A rescue swimmer is lowered to the ice from a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a search and rescue exercise in the Arctic, July 14, 2015. Conducted over two days, the search and rescue exercise involved crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and a Coast Guard Jayhawk working with scientists and interagency partners to test rescue capabilities off the North Shore of Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A rescue swimmer is lowered to the ice from a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a search and rescue exercise in the Arctic, July 14, 2015. Conducted over two days, the search and rescue exercise involved crews from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and a Coast Guard Jayhawk working with scientists and interagency partners to test rescue capabilities off the North Shore of Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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One Response

  1. simmss says:

    Russia and China at the pace they are spending to get to the two poles will leave us behind and we will regret it down the road.