SEATTLE — The Coast Guard announced Wednesday that the Association for Rescue at Sea has selected Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Hylkema, a boatswain’s mate at Station Grays Harbor, to receive the 2016 AFRAS Gold Medal for a rescue offshore the Long Beach Peninsula.
The AFRAS Gold Medal is awarded annually to a Coast Guard enlisted member who exhibited exceptional courage and heroism during a rescue at sea.
Hylkema is cited for extraordinary heroism on the night of Oct. 6, 2016, while serving as a crewmember aboard the 52-foot Motor Lifeboat Invincible, during the rescue of the master of the sailing vessel Grace.
The Grace was transiting from Tacoma to San Francisco when it was caught in a storm off Long Beach. “Considering weather conditions and structurally weak deck, it was decided to have the master wear an immersion suit, anchor the vessel, then evacuate into the water to be pulled to safety,” the Coast Guard said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the master’s legs became wrapped in the heaving line, with only a life ring keeping the master’s head above water.”
Hylkema volunteered to deploy as a surface swimmer. He battled 18- to 20-foot breaking seas and swam more than 150 feet to the master in order to cut him free. Hylkema remained in the water as the MLB crew recovered the barely coherent master first.
“I’m honored daily to work with some of the finest men and women in the Coast Guard, and I am extremely proud of Hylkema’s heroism to freely give of himself in such a way as to bring honor to his family, those he serves with, and the Coast Guard,” said Chief Warrant Officer Cheston Evans, commanding officer, Station Grays Harbor.
The award will be presented to Hylkema at a ceremony held at the Rayburn Congressional Office Building, Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26.
The motor life boat used in this rescue is one of four in the Coast Guard, with each being more than 50 years old. “These unique vessels are all located in the Pacific Northwest and each is known for its exceptional sea-keeping and rescue capabilities that far exceed that of the newer vessels when facing breaking surf and hurricane force winds,” the Coast Guard said. The four vessels are named Invincible, Triumph, Victory and Intrepid and are stationed in Grays Harbor, Cape Disappointment, Yaquina Bay and Coos Bay. They are the only Coast Guard vessels smaller than 65-feet in length that have official names.
Our Board of Directors has reviewed all submissions for our annual lifesaving awards program, voted on the heroes most deserving of recognition and have selected the following awardees:
Vice Admiral Thomas Sargent III Gold Medal – Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Benjamin Cournia, U.S. Coast Guard
Silver Medal – Mr. Patrick Porter, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
AMVER Award – Crew of the cruise ship Veendam, Holland America Line
AMVER Special Award – Crew of the training ship State of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy
Petty Officer Cournia, a helicopter rescue swimmer from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, was nominated for the Gold Medal for a rescue on the evening of Oct. 1, 2015, during which his heroic actions saved 12 lives from the sinking 212-foot freighter Minouche. The crew of the Minouche abandoned ship 60 miles west of Haiti, and just 90 miles from the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, which was a raging category four storm. Cournia and the other rescuers aboard two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopters battled 15-foot seas and 50-knot winds to complete the rescues.
Cournia battled churning seas to get survivors from their life raft – which was continuously blown hundreds of yards away from the rescue scene – into the helicopter’s rescue basket for hoisting to safety. He spent two hours in the water to rescue the first eight, then had to be hoisted himself so the helicopter could return to their forward operating base in the Bahamas for fuel. The crew was back on-scene an hour later, but after Cournia rescued the ninth survivor, a malfunction aboard the helicopter forced the crew to once again return to base – this time to switch airframes and return to the scene a third time and deploy Cournia into the turbulent water, where he expertly completed the rescue of the three final survivors.
Auxiliarist Porter was nominated for the Silver Medal for actions that potentially prevented critical injury or death to two participants of the 2015 Bullhead City River Regatta, an event in Arizona that attracted more than 35,000 participants for tube-floating on a six-mile stretch of the Colorado River. During his patrol, Porter witnessed a person swimming against the current of the river without a personal flotation device, and then go under the water three times, due to fatigue. Porter rescued the individual by pulling him aboard his personal watercraft. Later that day, he witnessed another participant, among the thousands of people in the water, unconscious and foaming and the mouth – he rescued this individual and transported her to another vessel with emergency medical technicians aboard. During both rescues, Porter had to navigate carefully through the throngs of participants crowding the river, ensuring his own safety, the safety of others and the safety of the rescuees.
The Amver participating ship Veendam’s crew rescued the pilot from a single engine plane after he ditched his aircraft in the ocean, after experiencing fuel and engine problems, 200 miles northeast of Maui, Hawaii, Jan. 25, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard authorities launched rescue assets after the initial call for help, but found that the Veendam was in the path of the aircraft, using the Amver system. After the aircraft hit the water, the pilot got into his life raft and was quickly recovered by the crew of the Veendam. The pilot was uninjured and remained on the ship until it reached its next port of call.
The Amver participating ship State of Maine rescued a lone sailor after his sailboat began taking on water 520 miles southeast of Halifax, Canada, June 10, 2015. After the initial call for help, U.S. Coast Guard authorities launched search and rescue aircraft from both the U.S. and Canada, but soon discovered, using the Amver system, that the State of Maine was only 29 miles away from the sailor in distress and was willing to divert to attempt a rescue. Cadets aboard the ship readied rescue equipment, fast rescue boats and rigged a Jacob’s ladder to allow the sailor to board the ship. Within a few hours of the initial notification, the survivor was safely aboard the training ship.
The Association for Rescue at Sea will present these maritime lifesaving awards at our annual awards ceremony. The event will be held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C., Sep. 21, hosted by Congressman Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Coast Guard Subcommittee.
Association for Rescue at Sea Vice President Wayne Spivak is featured on this radio interview with the program Breakthrough Entertainment to talk about AFRAS and its missions, sea rescue challenges and Disney’s motion picture “The Finest Hours.” The movie details the U.S. Coast Guard’s historic 1952 Pendleton rescue, during a fierce storm off Chatham, Mass. Have a listen: