COAST GUARD CREW TO BE HONORED

COAST GUARD CREW TO BE HONORED

The Coast Guard crew that carried out one of the most daring and perilous rescue missions in recent years will be recognized for heroism at an award ceremony in New York tonight.

On April 4, 1992, two brothers climbing on a seaside cliff near Cape Lookout, Ore., became trapped in a cave at the cliff's base near the waterline. One drowned before the Coast Guard arrived, but the other was rescued in a tale that will be retold for years within the agency.The crew's experiences will be relived tonight when Adm. J. William Kime, the Coast Guard commandant, presents the crew of four with the Coast Guard Foundation's Fisher Award for heroism at the foundation's annual ceremony in New York, the organization announced.

The crew of the HH-65A, out of nearby Air Station Astoria, responded to a call from other climbers who said they heard cries coming from inside the cave. The crew had no idea the mission would become a life-defining moment.

Before the helicopter arrived at the rescue site, one of the boys was swept into the water by the incoming tide and was never found. The other nestled

himself into a crevice inside the clamshell-shaped cave and managed to hold on. The tide apparently came in quickly after the boys had climbed into the cave, making it impossible for them to make their way out.

Owing to fast moving tides, 10-foot swells and the rocky coastline, a rescue by ship was out of the question.

Petty Officer Tristan Heaton, a trained rescue swimmer, was lowered into the 47-degree water shortly after the helicopter arrived and was able to reach the panicked boy 50 yards inside the cave. But the tidal surge pushed them under water and deeper into the cave each time the officer tried to carry the boy to safety.

Petty Officer Heaton radioed the situation to the pilot, Lt. Ed Gibbons, who then faced a difficult choice: maneuver into the cave so as to position a sling and rescue basket directly over the officer and the victim, or risk losing both of them.

Lt. Gibbons took the risk, a decision made even more heroic because of bad weather that day. In deciding to fly directly into the cave, the pilot had to keep the craft hovering over the water with only 15 feet of clearance between the helicopter blades and the cave ceiling.

With that margin, the helicopter hovered for 20 minutes until Petty Officer Heaton finally took hold of the basket and shoved the victim, who had gone limp, inside. The helicopter then backed out of the cave, dragging them behind, until the craft was clear of the cave and the two could be safely hoisted up. Afterward, an emotional Petty Officer Heaton said he thought he wasn't going to make it out alive.

The crew of HH-65A, also including Co-Pilot Lt. Blake Burris and ADII Craig Wyatt, the flight mechanic, is one among four crews to be honored tonight by the Coast Guard Foundation, a fund-raising group in Stonington, Conn., that sponsors projects to aid the morale and welfare of Coast Guard personnel.