Sunday, May 27, 2001


On a recent Coast Guard training flight, Lt. Ben Boyer and
Lt. Col. John Duff flew a C-130 on a simulated rescue mission.

Sea searchers
use a little luck
and a lot of skill

Coast Guard rescue crews
urge boaters to carry VHF
radios and mirrors, just in case


By Gregg K. Kakesako

"Sometimes it's just blind luck when you have a ton of ocean and you're looking for something the size of a small car," says Coast Guard spokesman Eric Hedda.

That's something recreational fishermen don't realize when they launch for what they assume will be a short weekend cruise and run into trouble when they don't have the necessary equipment to call for help.

Too many recreational boaters depend on cellular phones, which are not dependable, Hedda said. "They either don't have the range, or the batteries run out."

The best means of communication are VHF radios and emergency position-indicating radio beacons, which are transmitters linked to satellites and will send signals when activated, showing the location of the distressed vessel.

To illustrate the problems the Coast Guard encounters when called to locate a vessel in distress, the Star-Bulletin was invited on a training mission involving an HC-130H Hercules long-range surveillance aircraft. Four of the craft are maintained at the Coast Guard's air station at Kawailoa, along with four HH-65A Dolphin short-range recovery helicopters.

The Coast Guard Air Station at what was once Barbers Point Naval Air Station supports the largest and most culturally diverse operating area, spanning 18 million square miles of open space, atolls and island nations. From the air station the Coast Guard can dispatch long-range patrols and logistical support missions. The four helicopters cover short-range operations up to 300 miles, while the C-130s stretch the Coast Guard's long-range capabilities to more than 4,500 miles.

Lt. Cmdr. John Duff, a C-130 pilot, said a plane and a crew of seven are on standby 24 hours a day to respond to rescue calls. Today 200 officers and enlisted personnel maintain a 24-hour vigil for the 14th Coast Guard District, providing aviation support for search and rescue, marine environmental protection, maritime law enforcement and navigational aids.

During the search for the Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru in February, several C-130s were involved in the sweep of the Pacific for survivors, which lasted more than three weeks. The bodies of nine people were never recovered.

For the training mission Duff said his task was to find a 24-foot white vessel with a blue top that was in trouble within three miles of Diamond Head.

"We're going to use a ladder pattern search," Duff said. "That would mean starting the search on one leg of the ladder, crossing over the leg, moving down the side of the ladder and then crossing over the leg to the other side of the ladder."

A crewman scanned the sea for a boat.

Another type of search pattern entails starting at the center of a circle and radiating outward.

"It ends up looking a pie," said Lt. Ben Boyer, a C-130 co-pilot.

Another search pattern involves flying an ever-expanding square route.

In every instance, the crew of the C-130 is looking for telltale signs from the distressed craft, such as smoke, flares or even a glint off a signaling mirror. The back of the 97-foot C-130 is open to give the crew a better view of the ocean.

During the training mission, a boat operated by the Coast Guard's auxiliary is supposed to have experienced engine trouble and is dead in the water. With the seas fairly calm and the weather almost picture perfect, Duffy's radar quickly comes upon several objects. Within a few minutes the suspected craft is found after it signals the Coast Guard with a mirror.

By radio Duffy's crew orders the distressed ship to send up flare and smoke signals. A bright red flare and orange smoke drift above the craft. Mission accomplished, and the C-130 heads back to Barbers Point.

Duff said all rescue missions would be that easy if all boaters at all times carried visual signaling devices such as flares, smoke and the cheapest of all of them, a small mirror. He also recommended water, food and life vests or preservers.

Boaters can get more information by calling the Coast Guard at 1-800-818-USCG.

Gregg K. Kakesako can be reached by phone at 294-4075
or by e-mail at

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