For the U.S. Coast Guard, saving lives is just another day at the office. On September 13, the Coast Guard Foundation – a non-profit organization committed to the education and welfare of all U.S. Coast Guard members and their families – awarded the crew of the 52’ motor lifeboat Invincible of Station Grays Harbor with the 2017 Pacific Northwest Coast Guard Foundation Heroic Action Award.
Notable to Invincible’s record is a harrowing rescue on October 6, 2016 involving the sailboat Grace that was en route to San Francisco when it was overcome by a ferocious storm. As Station Grays Harbor’s primary responding crew was dispatched on another search and rescue case, crew BMC Brant Soderlund, BMC Jeremy Culican, MK1 Kevin Trapp, and BM2 Jacob Hylkema were recalled to the Grays Harbor station while off-duty. Demonstrating exceptional responsiveness, Invincible was dispatched in 14’ to 16’ seas with winds gusting to 55 knots. While anxiously awaiting assistance, Grace sustained damage and was unable to steer or maintain heading.
Displaying exceptional ingenuity, the Invincible crew devised a plan to have the solo sailor onboard don an immersion suit and abandon ship using a life ring from the ship with tending lines attached. Moving swiftly into action, the Invincible crew passed over a strobe light and the life ring with a heaving line. Exhausted and disoriented, the sailor entered the water without removing the heaving line from the life ring and his legs quickly became wrapped in the line that had entangled itself in the sailing vessel’s rigging.
Immediately recognizing the situation, Hylkema selflessly volunteered to go to the man’s aid. According to reports, he yelled to Soderlund, “I need to go!” and the coxswain maneuvered Invincible closer to the drowning man. Hylkema entered the water without hesitation and swam over 150 feet through the breaking seas without gear or tending line. Soderlund closed the distance while Culican and Trapp tended lines as waves continued to crash over the people in the water and the deck of the Invincible.
Possessing minimal rescue swimmer training, Hylkema swam to the man in the water and used a knife to cut him free. He then courageously held the exhausted man above water as Culican and Trapp pulled them back to the boat.
“The brave men and women of the United States Coast Guard are always ready to put themselves in harm’s way to protect those in need,” said Susan Ludwig, president of the Coast Guard Foundation, in a press release. “The courageous actions of the crew of the Invincible are proof that the outcome of this particular event could easily have turned into tragedy.”
As rougher fall weather sets in, Pacific Northwest boaters should take extra safety precautions, as well as thank our servicemen and women on the water whenever they get the chance. If you want to learn more about the Coast Guard Foundation or help support their work, check out coastguardfoundation.org or call 860-535-0786 for more information.