Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division’s (NSWC PCD) Search and Rescue (SAR) crew responded to an urgent marine alert Oct. 23, from Coast Guard Sector Mobile concerning a kayaker who became adrift in rough seas about four miles offshore from Phillips Inlet in Panama City Beach, Fla.
According to NSWC PCD Executive Officer Cmdr. Greg Brotherton, NSWC PCD’s Aviation SAR crew’s performance was first rate.
“This is the first rescue NSWC PCD’s SAR crew performed since initially earning their SAR certification in 2011,” said Brotherton. “The U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile Command Center Watchstanders in Mobile, Ala., received the distress call and relayed the request for assistance to NSWC PCD’s SAR unit, who then flew an MH-60S helicopter to the scene and rescued the kayaker.”
Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Nathan Gardner, a SAR swimmer, said the kayaker had been troll fishing when he hooked a large fish that pulled him farther out to sea and actually ended up capsizing the kayak.
“The kayaker reported the sea state became pretty rough with high swells and when strong winds from the north picked up, combined with the fish dragging the vessel, the kayak literally capsized,” Gardner said. “I believe this is when the kayaker reported he then lost his paddle and it took him a while to get his kayak right side up again.”
Chief Aviation Warfare Systems Operator Daniel Brantley said when he spotted the kayaker, he was lying face down on his kayak.
“He didn’t move much, only to raise his head to let us know he saw us,” said Brantley. “His lack of movement was probably due to him trying to keep his kayak from capsizing again due to the sea swells.”
The NSWC PCD SAR team consisted of Lt. Blaine Cardinale of Clearwater, Fla.; Lt. Evan Knock of Orlando, Fla.; Chief Aviation Warfare Systems Operator (AW) Daniel Brantley of Waurika, Okla.; and Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class (AW) Nathan Gardner of Hesperia, Calif.
Gardner said the swells were actually high enough to make keeping the kayaker in sight a challenge.
“The sea state was pretty rough. I had to wait for the swells to go back down to keep him in sight while I was swimming toward him,” Gardner said, adding it was at that point the kayaker told Gardner he was tired and needed help getting back to shore and home again.
“I asked him if he was injured,” Gardner said. “He told me he wasn’t injured, just really tired and that he thought he might have been stranded for about an hour and a half at that point. I could tell he seemed physically all right, uninjured and just frightened. It was at this point Chief Brantley lowered the safety strop, I secured the survivor to my gear, briefed him how we would be pulled up into the helicopter. We then finished executing the rescue and flew the survivor back to the flight deck at NSWC PCD.”
Gardner said the survivor was safely secured inside the aircraft by 12:15 p.m. and it was just a few minutes later when they landed and the medical responders were able to pronounce the man safe, uninjured and able to be released to go home.
“We were landing back on the tarmac at 12:25 where the medical EMTs were already on site waiting to evaluate and treat the survivor,” Gardner said. “He was happy to be pronounced safe and healthy and our local Fish and Wildlife Officer was able to give him a ride home. I remember this man telling me how there had been other boaters who had literally passed him by without seeing or hearing him.”
Gardner said the rough sea state, strong winds, noise from the other boats’ engines probably added to the kayaker’s predicament of not being easily detected.
“He couldn’t be seen due to how high the sea swells were. I believe he also had to stay in a prone position to keep his kayak from capsizing again,” Gardner said. “He was essentially keeping a low profile so he simply wasn’t visible to other people passing by; again, probably due to the rough sea state.”
Gardner said he was just happy this rescue went so well and credited his whole crew with being exceptionally trained professionals as the reason the mission was a success.
“It was really relieving to be able to see someone taken out of a bad situation that could have gotten a lot worse. I have to say, this was a successful rescue because of our whole Aviation Unit’s professionalism. I mean everyone from the people back at our Maintenance Safety Office keeping in contact with us, giving us our heading and coordinates to our pilots. Really, everyone responded as a whole, a very efficient team of professionals to serve with,” Gardner said.
“Due to the fact that the kayaker had a form of communications, the U.S. Coast Guard was able to assist the kayaker,” said Petty Officer Third Class Jonathan Lally, External Affairs Office, U.S. Coast Guard District 8, New Orleans. “The Coast Guard encourages mariners to have a form of communication, wear a life jacket, and prepare and share a float plan before they go on the water.”
Press Release, October 25, 2013; Image: Navy