Pacific Northwest rescue

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blair Petterson, an aviation electronics technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., stands in front of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter on the air station flight line. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blair Petterson, an aviation electronics technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., stands in front of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter on the air station flight line. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley

Where a person is now is a summation of where they have been. In essence, people make choices that lead them to where they currently are. For members of the Coast Guard, the choice to join is all too familiar, despite different backgrounds each Coast Guard member originates from.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blair Petterson, an aviation electronics technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., made a series of decisions that led him to the Coast Guard. However, service in the Coast Guard was not his first time serving his country.

Petterson joined the Marines in 1997 and served until 2001. During his time in the Marines, he was assigned to a wing support squadron in Miramar, Calif. It was while serving there that a love of aviation developed – a love that would eventually lead him to the Coast Guard.

In 2009, with a desire to continue serving his country, Petterson enlisted in the Coast Guard with the hopes of working in aviation.

“I joined and reported to boot camp, and on those first two days, I was thinking ‘What have I gotten myself into’,” said Petterson. “However, things got better and after boot camp I reported to Small Boat Station Neah Bay in Washington. Being stationed there was a lot of fun. It was cool seeing that side of the Coast Guard, but I wanted to go into aviation. The wait for school felt like forever, especially because it was what I wanted to do.”

After successfully completing his specialty training at the aviation electronics technician school, in Elizabeth City, N. C., Petterson returned to the Pacific Northwest at Air Station Astoria, Ore.

It was at the air station that Petterson would conduct his first rescue as a member of a flight crew, which was also caught on video and would be highlighted on the television show “Coast Guard Cape Disappointment/Pacific Northwest.”

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria, Ore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria, Ore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn.

“As a member of the flight crew, I was acting as the aircraft’s flight mechanic,” said Petterson. “This job includes monitoring aircraft functions and communications.”

While monitoring radio communications on board the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, he picked up a broadcast about two girls who had been swept out into the water at Sunset Beach, north of Seaside, Ore., a quick two minute flight from where the aircrew was conducting training.

“I remember hearing the transmissions, and asking the pilots if we should go and take a look, that way we could help the ready rescue helicopter crew when they got there,” said Petterson. “We were a training flight and we did not have a rescue swimmer aboard the helicopter. However, we could fly to the scene and help with communications and assessment of the situation for when the rescue helicopter crew got on scene.”

The pilots agreed with the idea of heading towards the beach and those in need. When the aircrew arrived on scene, they noticed that one of the girls had made it back ashore, but there was a man wading out to a dark shape floating in the water.

This good samaritan turned out to be one of the girls’ teachers, part of a group from a local school that was visiting the beach.

“We watched as the man waded out and swam to the girl, where he then worked to keep her head above the cold water,” said Petterson. “People don’t often understand just how cold the waters can be here in the Pacific Northwest. It does not take long for hypothermia to set in – even on a hot sunny day.”

Seeing the immediate need to get the girl medical attention, Petterson recommended the idea of lowering the rescue basket to the teacher and the girl in need.

“We did not have a rescue swimmer, but we did have rescue gear,” said Petterson. “The rescue gear is fairly easy to understand and the teacher was able to quickly load the girl into the rescue basket and we were able to safely hoist her into the helicopter. The teacher was then able to wade back ashore.”

Having the girl safe from the water, the helicopter crew landed on the beach to coordinate with a local sheriff deputy in getting the girl to medical attention.

“This part of the rescue was not highlighted in what the show showed, but we landed to see where the EMS crews were and how long they would be,” said Petterson. “It was from the sheriff deputy that we learned that EMS was still a long ways away from the beach. We then made the decision to fly back to the air station, where EMS could more quickly respond.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blair Petterson, an aviation electronics technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., helps maintain the electrical components on board the aircraft is also a qualified flight mechanic, helping ensure the working conditions of the aircraft while on the ground and during flights. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blair Petterson, an aviation electronics technician at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., helps maintain the electrical components on board the aircraft is also a qualified flight mechanic, helping ensure the working conditions of the aircraft while on the ground and during flights. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

The crew quickly took off from the beach and flew back to the air station where EMS crews met the helicopter. The girl was treated for exposure to the cold water, including signs of mild hypothermia.

“She was not looking good when we rescued her,” said Petterson. “We were able to start warming her up and, from what I understand, she was able to go home later in the day after being released from the hospital.”

Petterson credits his training and the training that the rest of his fellow aircrew undergoes to prepare for the missions of Air Station Astoria.

“The whole response was over so fast,” said Petterson. “Our training kicked in and it was amazing how smoothly things went. We were able to help save a life, but it was the actions of the teacher who made the difference in the rescue. Without his help the girl may have had to stay in the water for another half hour until a rescue swimmer could arrive, and this case could have turned out much differently.”

Petterson was presented a Sikorsky Award for his part in the rescue. This award is presented by Sikorsky, the manufacture of the Jayhawk helicopter, to honor those who save lives using the company’s helicopter.

“It is a simple award,” said Petterson. “However, it is something that helps me remember my first rescue – a case I will never forget.”

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