• Ranger down

    • Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    • Coast Guard aircraft commander Brian McLaughlin, wearing night vision goggles, flew shotgun in the HH-60 Jayhawk that arrived first on the scene. Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    • Alaska Ranger Captain Peter Jacobsen
    • Fisherman David Hull
    • Fisherman Ryan Shuck
    • The Alaska Ranger at port. To pinpoint the location of a rescue, the Coast Guard deploys a data marker buoy. It sends out a predesignated radio frequency, which other craft can then tune into to find the scene. Image credit: Associated Press
    • Rescue swimmer - O"â„¢Brien Hollow. Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    • Flight mechanic "“ Robert Debolt. Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    • Pilot "“ Steve Bonn. Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    • Coast Guard members on the cutter Munro help an airlifted survivor.
    • US fi shing vessels are required to carry one neoprene survival suit for each crew member. A full-length body zipper and tight-fitting hood keep freezing water out, while features such as a whistle and refl ective tape aid in detection.
    • The HH-65 Dolphin rescued five men before returning with only 77 kg of fuel. Image credit: Henry Leutwyler
    Date:31 July 2008 Tags:, , , , ,

    “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is the . 5, 3, 5, 3 North, 1, 6, 9, 5, 8 West… We are flooding, taking on water in our rudder room.”

    It was 2:52 am on March 23, Easter morning, when Coast Guard Station Kodiak picked up the distress call from a point almost 1 300 km west, in Alaska’s frigid Bering Sea.

    “Roger. Good copy on position… Request to know number onboard, over.”

    After a static-filled pause, the answer came through loud and clear: “Number of persons: 47.”

    Captain Peter Jacobsen was in the crowded wheelhouse of the 57 m fishing vessel. When the trawler’s emergency alarm had first sounded about an hour before, crew members descended below decks to see water rising fast in the ship’s stern compartments. They had pulled out a pump, but the effort soon looked futile. Now Jacobsen, 65, a veteran captain who had been fishing in the Bering Sea for 23 years, was making calls to his ship’s sister vessels, repeating the co-ordinates of the position nearly 200 km west of the Aleutian Island port of Dutch Harbour.

    Three hundred and seventy kilometres to the north, pilot Steve Bonn was in the middle of a late-night Xbox duel when the phone rang in the Coast Guard’s tiny outpost on St Paul Island. Bonn, 39, served as a US Army Blackhawk pilot before joining the Coast Guard eight years ago. He was now four days into a two-week shift at the isolated base, where squads of rescuers stand by for emergencies involving the USA’s largest – and most danger-plagued – fishing fleet. Bonn rushed to the barracks to wake his crew: co-pilot Brian McLaughlin, 30; flight mechanic Robert Debolt, 28; and rescue swimmer O’Brien Hollow, 33. Within minutes, they had loaded into SUVs, sped through metre-deep snow drifts to the hangar and were fuelling up a 6 500-kg HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter.

    Craig Lloyd, 46, captain of the Coast Guard cutter , was on patrol near the ice edge south of the barren Pribilof Islands when the mayday call came through. He ordered engineers to switch the 110 m cutter from its standard diesel engines to Pratt & Whitney FT4A engines, similar to the ones that power Boeing 707s. Several of the 160 crew members onboard were jarred awake in their bunks as the 13 500 kW turbines kicked in, and the Munro began to sprint toward the sinking ship at a speed of nearly 30 knots, or 55 km/h.

    David Hull struggled to pull a bright-red survival suit over the sweats he had been sleeping in minutes before. The thick neoprene “Gumby” suit, which looks a little like a child’s footed pajamas, has a zip up the front that is supposed to form a tight seal at the neck to keep the body dry. But as Hull stepped into the flopping legs of the oversize suit, he felt his thermal socks soak through. Inside, there was already standing water.

    A 28-year-old who grew up in the Seattle suburbs, Hull had spent three years as a fish processor on the . The so-called head-and-guts vessel has a factory below decks where the catch is partially prepared for sale; it is roughly twice as long as the average king-crab boat the region is known for. Hull had been asleep on his “rack” in the bunk room that he shared with three fellow fishermen when another crew member opened the door: “Get your suits on. We’re flooding.” Like the rest of the crew, Hull had reported to a muster station near his designated life raft on the ship’s deck. Now the anxious men were cycling through 5-minute warmup shifts in the wheelhouse, where they could barely recognise each other in the bulky, hooded suits.

    Outside, the deck was slick with ice, and waves were beginning to crest over the stern. The temperature was -11 degrees. As Hull leaned against the front window of the wheelhouse, awaiting his turn, the went dark. Oddly, it seemed to shift into reverse. Then the trawler took a sudden, violent list to starboard. Hull lunged for an icy rail and held tight as crew members clinging to the rail below him gazed up in horror. “Don’t let go, don’t let go,” he heard someone yell. If he lost his grip, Hull would hurtle down the deck like a bowling ball, knocking the men into the sea.

    Amid the chaos, the captain issued the order: abandon ship. The men struggled to launch the ice-crusted life rafts. They had been told that they would lower ladders to board the rafts in an emergency. But because the Ranger was moving astern, the rafts shot toward the bow instead of floating in place near the side of the vessel. Hull watched them drift away. Then he jumped. He swam for the closest raft, hauled himself in, then peered out of the tented shelter. All around, the lights attached to his friends’ survival suits were spreading out in the freezing water, blinking in and out of view as the men bobbed up and down in the 6 m swells.

    One of those lights belonged to Ryan Shuck, a soft-spoken 31-year-old, who had joined the crew of the 10 months earlier. Shuck had been one of the first to jump. He’d leaped from the middle of the ship – and was quickly sucked under and beyond his raft. Now he was farther downwind than anyone else. Gazing back in the trawler’s direction, he could see the tiny, solitary beacons flickering among the waves and, by the light of the Moon, the outline of the vessel bulging out from the ocean. Shuck watched as the bow of the turned up toward the sky. Eerily, the lights in the wheelhouse flickered on for a brief moment. And then, in a matter of seconds, the ship disappeared, sinking swiftly below the waves.

    Alaska has the highest rate of lost fishing vessels of any Coast Guard district – 338 boats sunk from 1994 to 2004. Most accidents involve craft far smaller than the , and incidents in which more than four or five people evacuate a sinking ship directly into the water (rather than into life rafts) are extremely unusual.

    The Coast Guard regularly inspects fishing vessels out of Dutch Harbour; it knew the should have enough survival suits for everyone onboard. But even with the thick foam suits sealed properly, few can survive in the Bering Sea for more than two hours. When the received reports that men had abandoned ship, its crew mobilised to deal with mass casualties. Chief Chuck Weiss took charge of transforming the mess hall into a triage centre. He briefed several men on how to treat hypothermia, and they set to work gathering dozens of wool blankets that would be warmed in the ship’s industrial dryers and in ovens, set to 95 degrees.

    Meanwhile, the cutter’s HH-65 Dolphin helicopter was hauled out of its hangar and rolled onto a honeycomb metal grid on deck. In 60 km/h winds, the crew deployed the hydraulic probe that secures the 2 700 kg machine tight to the platform. Then they waited. The Dolphin is a smaller helicopter than the Jayhawk and has a much shorter range. The cutter had to be within 130 km of the disaster site to be able to launch; otherwise, the crew might not have enough time to carry out their rescue and then return to the before they used up their 840 kg of fuel.

    It felt to shuck as though he’d been in the water for hours. He could see a cluster of four or five lights a couple of hundred metres behind him, but it was too far to swim; he was already exhausted. Shuck thought about unzipping his suit. Maybe if he just let himself sink to the bottom, it would be easier. It would all be over much faster. He was so cold. Then he saw a light glaring down through the darkness and 30 seconds later heard the sound of propellers whipping through the wind.

    A hundred metres above the ocean, Steve Bonn and co-pilot Brian McLaughlin peered through night vision goggles as they scanned the waves below. It was just after 5 in the morning, but in Alaska in winter, that’s still pitch dark. Finally, the helicopter broke out from a snow squall, and there it was – a light. Then two, three… five. The crew saw what looked like a poorly lit runway, a string of strobes flashing on and off over almost a 2 km stretch of ocean. There was no sign of the .

    When they set out from St Paul, the crew had brought a de-watering pump, expecting to find the ship afloat and salvageable. Now, flight mechanic Rob Debolt pitched the pump into the sea. The scene that faced them was a disaster far more extreme than they – or anyone they knew – had responded to in the past. All four men had attended the Coast Guard’s prestigious Advanced Helicopter Rescue School in Oregon, where they’d practised difficult manoeuvres in the huge swells that form where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. This rescue, in driving snow and gusting winds, would test every aspect of their training.

    McLaughlin was able to radio a crewman in one of the life rafts. They were all okay. The Jayhawk would start with the men in the water. Within minutes, the helicopter was hovering over Shuck. Rescue swimmer O’Brien Hollow hooked his harness into a cable controlled by a hoist hard-mounted to the Jayhawk, then stepped to the open door. He wore a Nomex drysuit, 7-millimetre neoprene gloves and a neoprene hood under his helmet – as well as a snorkel, lighted mask and fins. As he sank down into the darkness on the thin metal line, Hollow saw the man in the water reaching out, trying to swim toward him. Hollow told him to stop.

    Then he hit the water waist-deep and the wind carried him right to Shuck. When Hollow grabbed his arm, Shuck says, he could feel how strong the rescue swimmer was, and he began to relax. Hollow asked if he could keep his arms solid at his sides. “Yes,” Shuck said, nodding. “I can do whatever you want me to do.” Hollow secured Shuck in a harness, then clipped him into his own hook. He gave Debolt the thumbs up – the signal to hoist both men out of the water.

    Within 15 seconds, Shuck was crawling toward the back of the Jayhawk, and Bonn was piloting the machine to the next closest light. Again, Hollow went down on the cable as Bonn manoeuvred the helicopter, following cues from Debolt, who was watching the rescue swimmer at every moment, and McLaughlin, who called out the size and frequency of the incoming waves. Then they came to a group of six men who had linked arms in the water.

    The Coast Guard crew decided to switch from the harness, called a Strop system, to a rescue basket. The metal compartment is generally considered a safer hoisting option for anyone having trouble breathing. The harness pulls tightly around the chest, but there is no strap in the basket. The person simply sits inside the high-walled box until it is pulled into the helicopter. The basket is also faster for lifting people clustered together, because the rescue swimmer stays in the water, prepping the next man to be hoisted up.

    Debolt again lowered Hollow into the water, and the rescue swimmer helped the men into the basket one by one. Then they moved on to another light, and another. In less than an hour, they had a dozen men in oversize, waterlogged suits piled atop one another in the crowded cabin. The helicopter was at capacity. McLaughlin had been in radio contact with the sister ship, the . The trawler was less than 15 km away; the cutter , which had both fuel and trained medical personnel, was still 120 km to the north. The Jayhawk was too big to land on either vessel. With a dozen lights still flashing below, McLaughlin, as the aircraft commander, made a tough call: They would attempt to save time by lowering their survivors to the .

    At 5:57 the Jayhawk reached the fishing boat. One crewman was loaded into the rescue basket as the helicopter hovered above the vessel. Three times, the men tried to lower the survivor as the pitched and rolled violently in the waves. The deck was iced over and crowded with rigging. The gantry was a hazard in the rough seas. After about 15 minutes, McLaughlin made a second tough call. It was too dangerous; they’d offload on to the instead.

    Inside his life raft, David Hull sat in a circle with nine other men, their backs against the inflated wall. The raft’s floor was wet, and Hull was cold. His hands and feet were numb, and he’d spent the past hour being pounded by breaking waves. It felt like a roller coaster he couldn’t get off. But someone had managed to grab handheld radios before abandoning ship. They knew the Coast Guard had their location and that help was on the way.

    The 12 people inside the second life raft were not as lucky. Both rafts were the same make, designed for 20 people: They weren’t overloaded. But the second raft was shin-deep in water and its pump wasn’t working. The raft’s survival pack had been ripped open, and now the rations, flares and other emergency tools were soaked. No one had a radio. And many of the dozen people inside had succumbed to seasickness. Among them was biologist Gwen Rains, who had worked in Alaska as a fisheries observer for the past two years. Vessels the size of the are required by federal law to sail with observers, who are charged with ensuring real-world fishing practices are in line with regulations.

    Rains had joined the crew just a few days earlier. She had worked on other ships owned by the parent company, though, and had become friends with the trawler’s first mate, David Silveira, who normally served as captain on another vessel. Other than Silveira and her co-observer, a recent university graduate on his first Alaska job, Rains didn’t know anyone on the ship.

    When Rains first climbed aboard the , she’d been struck by the vessel’s condition. It seemed more rundown than other ships she’d worked on. Dirtier. She noticed that some of the seals on the watertight doors looked like they were in poor shape. Now Rains was in a flooded life raft with 11 strangers. Her one friend had stayed behind on the sinking ship. She had a GPS-enabled beacon that had been provided by her employer, but she couldn’t tell if it was working. And she was ill. Violently so. She wasn’t the only one: most of the people in the raft were vomiting straight into the standing water. From above, they could hear the buzz of a helicopter. Rains knew that rescuers had to help the men in the water first, but she hoped they saw her raft as well.

    By 6 am, the Coast Guard cutter had travelled close enough to launch its Dolphin helicopter. Pilot Timothy Schmitz lifted off and headed toward the scene. He expected the to keep heading south as well, shortening the return flight. But then the cutter got word that the Jayhawk had failed to unload its survivors on the . Now the would have to stop and receive them.

    By the time the Dolphin arrived at the scene, its crew knew every minute they spent hovering would consume fuel they might need for the return flight. Rescue swimmer Abram Heller was lowered into the water. These fishermen were colder than those who had been airlifted by the Jayhawk an hour earlier – especially the fourth man Heller reached. The rescue swimmer spent at least 10 minutes struggling to get the burly fisherman to calm down and settle into the basket, as flight mechanic Alfred Musgrave peered down from above. Finally, it looked as though Heller was signalling to hoist the basket – that the man was seated safely inside.

    But as the basket rose toward the Dolphin, the fisherman raised himself to the rail. Soon, his legs were hanging out the side, his body stiff as he clung to the basket’s upper triangle. He looked terrified.

    With his survivor halfway out of the basket, Musgrave couldn’t pull it entirely inside the rig to unload. Instead, he boomed it in as close to the helicopter as possible and reached for his knife. The man’s survival suit had filled with water, adding as much as 50 kg to his weight; Musgrave planned to slice the suit to let the water drain out. But in the second that he turned away to grab his knife, the fisherman slipped. When Musgrave turned back, the man was hanging by his elbows from the open door.

    Musgrave desperately tried to haul him up, but the weight was too much. Within seconds, the man let go. “He’s gone, he’s gone,” Schmitz heard Musgrave repeat through his headset. Twelve metres below in the water, Schmitz could see the fisherman’s light, still blinking. For an instant, he thought he saw the man move his arms in the waves. “He’s okay, he’s moving,” the pilot said. But then, a heart-wrenching reality set in: “Never mind. He’s face down.”

    As the Jayhawk raced toward the cutter , rescue swimmer Hollow treated the worst-off fishermen with sternum rubs – a technique for keeping hypothermic patients alert. Meanwhile, engineers switched the cutter back to its diesel engines and changed course, steering the vessel into the wind to provide the helicopter with more stable conditions for what they knew would be a lengthy hover. The crew had set up an assembly line to get the fishermen out of the basket, across the deck, out of their suits, and down to the mess hall below. They knew that the longer it took to get the Jayhawk emptied, refuelled and back to the scene, the longer a dozen more men would be alone, slowly freezing to death in the icy water.

    Shuck watched his fellow crew members disappear from the edge of the helicopter one by one. Then it was his turn. As he huddled inside the swaying metal basket, a crewman reached up with a hook, called a “deadman’s stick”, and grounded the dangerous static charge that builds up from a helicopter’s rotors. Then Shuck was rushed from the deck. His suit was stripped off and his vital signs checked; soon he was wrapped in warm blankets and drinking hot cider. His temperature on arrival was 34 degrees. He would be one of the lucky ones.

    Outside, the Jayhawk had lowered its last survivor, and was refuelling using an emergency method known as HIFR (helicopter in-flight refuelling). Hovering the helicopter above the cutter, the crew used the hoist hook to draw up a fuel hose carefully snaked out on deck, then moved about 10 m off the side of the ship to refuel. The helicopter team had practised the tricky manoeuvre during training with the crew of the just days before. But that exercise had been in daylight and in relatively calm conditions. Still, everything was going smoothly; the Jayhawk was more than two-thirds of the way to its 2 900 kg fuel capacity when the call came in from the Dolphin. The smaller helicopter was dangerously short on fuel, still 20 minutes from the cutter with only 36 minutes to “splash”. The Jayhawk crew cut the HIFR short to get out of its way and sped to pick up five more men – including Heller, the Dolphin’s rescue swimmer, who had stayed behind to make more room for survivors.

    David Hull had been in his raft for nearly three hours. He was sitting in a shallow puddle of freezing water. The bottom of his suit was flooded. But his main concern had turned from his own life to the safety of those who had stayed longest on the sinking ship – especially the man known to the crew as Captain Pete. The captain was the first officer Hull had worked for when he’d signed up with the parent company, the Fishing Company of Alaska, a few years before. He liked and respected the captain, a peace-making, humble man who, despite his rank, would often lend a hand with chores, or head down to the factory to help the newbies pack fish. Hull knew that Captain Pete would consider it his duty to stay with the vessel until the very end.

    Finally, the men saw a ship’s light a couple of hundred metres away. Before long, the had pulled up alongside the raft. While the crew used its crane to lift some people from the water, Hull struggled to swim to the vessel and pull himself up a ladder on the starboard side. The dozen people in the second raft were recovered soon after. The crew gave the survivors blankets and microwaved potatoes to hold in their armpits. And then, as they sat warming themselves, the crew started pulling bodies out of the water. Hull saw the deckhands bring an unresponsive man down to the galley and lay him out on a table. Hull watched as the crew checked his vital signs and began CPR. It was too late. Captain Pete was dead.

    Minutes later, another man was pulled from the waves. There was vomit on his face. His eyes were glazed over. Hull began CPR on the fisherman, whom he recognised as Byron Carrillo, a 36-year-old from the Los Angeles area who had only been on the crew for a week. It was just days ago that Hull had noticed that the greenhorn, while a hard worker, was having trouble distinguishing different types of fish on the processing table. Hull had pulled him aside, given him some pointers. Now he was pumping water out of the poor guy’s body. Hull did 30 chest compressions, then mouth to mouth. Over and over. The other men were telling him to stop, but Hull didn’t want to give up. Finally, the first mate ordered him to end it. There was no hope.

    Back on board the Munro, Ryan Shuck had heard that some men hadn’t made it – but he didn’t know who. With the help of Coast Guard aircraft, the Munro was methodically searching the ocean for one crewman who was still missing. The airlifted men would remain onboard the cutter – camped out on the recliners in the Munro’s spacious TV rooms – until the search was concluded.

    On Monday, Lloyd, the Munro’s captain, gathered the Alaska Ranger’s crew to give them the news. Four bodies had been recovered. First Mate David Silveira had been unresponsive, the hood of his survival suit pulled back off his head, when he was lifted from the water by the Jayhawk on its return trip to the rescue scene. The Alaska Warrior had recovered the bodies of chief engineer Daniel Cook, fish processor Byron Carrillo and Captain Pete Jacobsen. Satoshi Konno, the vessel’s Japanese fishmaster, who was responsible for directing the trawler to the best fishing grounds, was still missing. That evening, the search was suspended; it was impossible that the man could have lasted more than 40 hours in the Bering Sea in only his survival suit. It was almost inconceivable that so many had lived for even two hours.

    Within days of the sinking, the Coast Guard convened a Marine Board of Investigation. Together with a team of experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, they were charged with determining why the Alaska Ranger foundered, why so many men failed to evacuate safely into life rafts, and how one man (later identified as Carrillo) had fallen out of the rescue basket during an airlift – an incident that’s virtually unheard of among Coast Guard personnel. There was also concern that a miscount during the Jayhawk’s first pickup delayed the realisation that Konno was still lost at sea. The Jayhawk crew counted 13 survivors pulled up in their first load; the Munro counted 12 lowered down.

    “There’s always things we could have done better and done differently,” Captain Lloyd, a career Coast Guard man, said. “We saved 42 lives. We didn’t do it perfectly. But we train for this. We did it without hurting ourselves and becoming part of the problem. Instead, we were part of the solution.”

    After more than a week of hearings in Dutch Harbour and Anchorage, Alaska, the board reconvened in a bland hotel conference room near Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, Washington, about 3 km from the Fishing Company of Alaska’s home office. (The company did not respond to repeated attempts to contact it for this story.) One after another, current and former employees – including Ryan Shuck and David Hull – testified about factors that may have affected safety on the Alaska Ranger. Despite a formal “no tolerance” policy toward drugs and alcohol, there was often drinking on board, several crewmen said. There were times when the engineers fell asleep on watch. And in the months before the accident, crew members testified, the Alaska Ranger had regularly travelled through ice, often at higher speeds than they’d experienced in the past, on this or other vessels. “Maybe we thought our boat was an icebreaker,” Hull said of a fishing trip near the ice edge that took place in February 2008. “It didn’t seem normal to me.” The shaking was so violent, he recalled, that hurt his ears.

    Could ice impact have compromised the ship’s hull, leading to flooding later? Did poor maintenance of the ship’s watertight doors contribute to the speed with which the vessel went down? Did the crew perform their jobs properly on the night of the disaster? The investigators will attempt to answer those questions over the next several months as they analyse dozens of hours of testimony about the Alaska Ranger’s last voyage and piles of documents detailing the ship’s extensive renovation and maintenance history. But it will be difficult – if not impossible – to determine beyond a doubt what happened to the trawler. After all, the most important piece of evidence now lies below more than 2 000 m of ocean, on the floor of the Bering Sea.

    In a Seattle diner on the day after his testimony, Ryan Shuck slowly shook his head when asked if he thought he would go back to fishing. A buddy from the Ranger had called with another job for him. Shuck turned it down. Before the accident, he said, the guys on his crew weren’t so crazy about the Coast Guard. It sometimes felt as if they were slowing things down, doing endless inspections. Then Shuck smiled. “But when you need them, you’re happy to see them.” On board the Munro, Shuck had been invited up on the gun deck and given a tour of the engine room, where he was told that the Munro had set a speed record on its sprint toward the Alaska Ranger. The cutter’s crew gave the fishermen clothes, including Coast Guard caps and jackets. Almost every man walked off the ship with a pair of sneakers that a Coast Guard member had coughed up. They treated him really well, Shuck said. They saved his life.

    When the rescue teams returned to Kodiak, they briefed the entire air station on the details of the mission, an operation that, considering both the number of people airlifted and the treacherous conditions, was unprecedented in Coast Guard history. None of the men had ever faced anything like it before and likely never would again. They were proud to be part of an effort that had saved so many lives, they told their fellow Coasties, and felt lucky to have had the opportunity to put years of training to such a test.

    “For us this is pretty huge, about as big a case as you can imagine,” McLaughlin reflected in the days afterward. “I’ve been on hoists when the boat sank in front of me. But there were five people, it was daytime,” he said. The Alaska Ranger was something entirely different: “You get out there, you get on scene and you get into a hover and you look to your left, you look to your right, and you see strobe lights wherever you look. And you think, oh my God, where do I begin? Then you just pick a spot as quickly as you can and start getting people out of the water.”

    By the end of April, the winter fishing season was drawing to an end. The Coast Guard had been busy, though. The normal stuff: there was a medevac case for a man involved in an ATV accident in a remote village, and a couple of searches for overdue vessels. A sailor had come down with appendicitis on a freighter far out in the Bering Sea. In Dutch Harbour, most of the fishing fleet had returned to port for a break before the summer season got underway. Many crewmen travelled home to visit their families. Trawlers underwent routine maintenance and inspections. Before long, it would be time to go. And the ships that fish these northern waters would leave their harbours for another season.

    Anatomy of a coast guard rescue
    When the mayday call came early on March 23 from a sinking trawler 200 km west of Dutch Harbour in the Aleutians, two helicopters, two ships and a fixed-wing plane raced to save its crew. Forty-seven people had abandoned ship in the freezing water of the Bering Sea – only 22 of them made it into life rafts. When the first helicopter arrived shortly after 5 am, with the plane relaying communications en route, the trawler’s sister ship was still about 25 km away and a Coast Guard cutter and its helicopter were at least 150 km north. Here’s the role each rescuer played in one of the most dramatic missions in US Coast Guard history.

    HH-60 Jayhawk
    First to arrive at the site, the 20 m Jayhawk – deployed from St Paul Island, 370 km northeast – recovered 16 men in two separate trips. A variant of the Blackhawk, the Jayhawk can lift 270 kg with its hydraulic hoist. Its five fuel tanks hold 2 900 kg, but in-flight refuellings during the rescue allowed the helicopter to fly for 8½ hours.

    HC-130 Hercules
    This fixed-wing aircraft flew 1 300 km in three hours from Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage. While still more than 800 km away, it acted as a communications platform for the rescue vessels, relaying messages from one to the others. Once it reached the scene, the Hercules “fl ew cover”, ready to offer aid if a helicopter got into trouble.

    HH-65 Dolphin
    Hangared on the Coast Guard cutter Munro, the 14 m Dolphin and its fourman crew launched toward the rescue site in 60 km/h winds. The helicopter, similar to the AS365 used by medevacs, rescued five men before growing dangerously short on fuel. Its maximum fuel load is 840 kg; it returned to the Munro with only 77.

    Alaska Warrior
    This fishing vessel approached hastily from the east when its sister ship started taking on water. After the Jayhawk made three failed attempts to lower survivors to its deck, the ship went on to rescue 22 people from life rafts. It also recovered three bodies, including the Ranger’s chief engineer – the brother of a Warrior crew member.

    Coast Guard cutter Munro
    Typically powered by diesel engines, the 115 m cutter switched to Pratt & Whitney FT4A engines to speed toward the scene from about 250 km north. Crew members converted the mess hall into a triage centre to treat survivors rescued by the two helicopters. They also assisted the Jayhawk in multiple in-flight refuellings.