Air Station Cape Cod Members Brave Elements to Help Rescue Stranded Fishermen

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Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter near Wood Island Lighthouse in Saco Bay, Maine
A U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter near Wood Island Lighthouse in Saco Bay, Maine. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo by Air Station Cape Cod)

JOINT BASE CAPE COD — It was a harrowing Tuesday night with 35 mph winds and 15-foot seas when members of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod assisted in the rescue of 31 fishermen from a disabled vessel that sank off the coast of Nova Scotia.

"It was a very challenging affair," Lt. Travis Christy, commander on the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter that helped in the rescue, said during a press conference at Joint Base Cape Cod Wednesday afternoon.

At 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was notified that the 143-foot Canadian vessel Atlantic Destiny was disabled with a fire on board and was taking on water.

A Coast Guard Air station Cape Cod HC-144 Ocean Sentry fixed-wing crew and two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters crews launched to the scene.

The two Jayhawk helicopters hoisted 21 fishermen between them. The fishermen were taken to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where they were transferred for any medical treatment.

Another six members were hoisted from the vessel by a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-149 helicopter crew from 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia.

Four other crew members initially stayed on board the Atlantic Destiny to try to dewater the vessel, and the Royal Canadian helicopter dropped off two search and rescue technicians to assist in the dewatering efforts, according to the statement.

When it became clear the vessel could not be saved, the remaining four crew members and two technicians were transferred to the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Cape Roger, the statement said.

Having managed only a few hours sleep, Christy, while exhausted, said Wednesday he was proud of the mission.

"I would say this was the most challenging (hoisting) that I have seen in my entire career," he said. "But we train frequently and work hard, and the reason we do that is for nights like last night."

Christy said the vessel was at the mercy of the sea and was unable to move on its own.

"There is no margin for error," he said. "The sea is incredibly unforgiving. It doesn't suffer fools, and it has a low tolerance for mistakes."

Flight mechanic Phillip Morales was tasked with safely retrieving the survivors from a small back corner of the ship. At one point, he recalled, crew members were transported one by one 90 feet up to the helicopter in the incredibly high winds, he said.

"I kept thinking to myself, 'slow is smooth and smooth is fast,'" Morales said. "'So just take your time and just bring them in and send it back down.'

Morales said there were some technical issues where they lost the trail line three times. The helicopter was down to its last line, and was forced to drop in altitude to stop the line from being yanked off the deck.

"It was all timing," he said, adding that it took the entire crew to accomplish each rescue.

The Atlantic Destiny was eventually located about 130 miles south of Halifax.

At around noon in Newfoundland, Ocean Choice International, the company that owns and operates the Atlantic Destiny, learned the vessel had succumbed to damages sustained on Tuesday night and had sunk, the business said in a statement.

"While we are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our offshore fishing vessels, we are extremely relieved and thankful that all of our 31 crew members were safely transported ashore and are currently in the process of reuniting with their families and loved ones," Ocean Choice CEO Martin Sullivan said in a statement.

An investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing, the company said.

The Atlantic Destiny, one of Ocean Choice's six offshore fishing vessels, harvests frozen-at-sea scallops. Its port of call is Riverport, Nova Scotia.

This article is written by Beth Treffeisen from Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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