Passengers aboard a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico this weekend were treated to some extremely skilled flying from the crew of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter during a daring rescue at sea amid rough weather.

In the early morning hours of April 29, Coast Guard Sector Mobile received a call from the Carnival Dream cruise ship, sailing approximately 300 miles off the coast of Alabama, requesting the medical evacuation of a passenger who was experiencing heart attack-like symptoms. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was dispatched from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans to assist with the evacuation.

Arriving above the cruise ship, the flying conditions were less than ideal. According to the Coast Guard, after lowering a rescue swimmer onto the deck, the Jayhawk was preparing to hoist one of the ship’s nurses aboard the helicopter when a large squall of wind and rain forced it to back away from the ship. A massive gust of wind then forced the helicopter rapidly down toward the choppy seas below. 

Fortunately, the crew was able to “recover the aircraft close to the water’s surface,” according to a Coast Guard release

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Now, that may sound simple enough, but some passengers aboard the Carnival Dream were filming the rescue, and captured exactly what recovering a helicopter “close to the water’s surface” looks like. 

Hovering in a helicopter is, as one pilot once put it, “very similar to standing up in a hammock while trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time.” Now, add in blinding rain and winds strong enough to force a roughly 14,500-pound helicopter towards the ocean surface in just a couple of seconds, and you have a recipe for a catastrophe — one that the skilled Jayhawk crew narrowly averted  

“During the rescue, the aircrew experienced severe and rapidly deteriorating weather that forced them to abort the mission,” said Cmdr. Keith Blair, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans. “Through exceptional real-time risk management, crew resource management, and superb piloting, the aircrew was able to safely recover the aircraft and land at the air station without further incident.”

A second Jayhawk was later dispatched from New Orleans and was able to complete the rescue, with the patient taken to a nearby hospital. 

Coast Guard photo

Coast Guardsmen are no strangers to intense rescues. Whether you’re adrift at sea and fighting off shark attacks, or trapped in a remote cabin in the Alaskan wilderness fighting off a bear, there’s probably no more welcome site than an orange and white helicopter filled with Coasties. Sometimes they’ll even take time off from their wedding day to save someone. 

Just another day in the Coast Guard. 

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