Hypothermic Man Clings to Raft, Saved from Burning Boat
(PORT ANGELES, Wash.) -- A Coast Guard aircrew over the weekend rescued a Washington man clinging to a life raft after his boat caught fire, authorities said.
The aircrew received the call around 11 a.m. Sunday regarding a burning vessel three miles north of Neah Bay, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The caller, who was described in a statement to ABC News as being a man in his mid-60s, 6-foot tall and 200 pounds, reported that his 25-foot pleasure craft Dawn Trader had gone up in flames -- and that he had abandoned the ship and jumped into his life raft while donning a survival suit.
An aircrew, 25-foot response boat from Coast Guard Station Neah Bay, and Good Samaritans aboard a nearby vessel all jumped to the rescue of the man, still clinging to the raft in 46-degree water.
"Based on deteriorating responsiveness of the survivor to our radio calls, we suspected he was near succumbing to hypothermia and feared he would lose consciousness," said Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty, aircraft commander, in a statement to ABC News.
The Coast Guard crews arrived at 11:50 a.m. to begin searching for the man among heavy vision impairing fog that prevented the crews from seeing more than 100 feet in front of them.
Finally, at noon, the man was found, authorities said.
"I reached the survivor rather quickly even with the sea state and distance first between us,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Johnston said. "I told him it would be loud and the rotor wash would be painful so please keep your eyes closed and I'll take care of you.”
Johnston then picked the man up off of the raft since he had slowly become immobile due to extreme hypothermia -- a process he described as “very challenging.”
Once in the helicopter, Johnston said he “got his attention and made him stay awake by talking to him and lightly squeezing his arm."
The man was immediately transported to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and is reportedly in a severe hypothermic state, though he was able to walk on his own to and from the helicopter, Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer told ABC News. There has been no reported change in the man’s condition.
Cmdr. Geraghty spoke out about the incident, crediting the man’s raft and handheld radio as the emergency measures that “most likely saved his life.”
“The extensive search area and difficult conditions we encountered would have made locating him nearly impossible had we not been able to hone in on his radio transmission with the helicopter’s direction finding system," he said.
The at-sea rescue was a first for Dolphin aircrew’s aviation survival technician and light mechanic, making for quite the heroic teaching moment. Geraghty applauded the crew members, saying that they “performed exceptionally in an incredibly challenging environment."
"This was a great rescue and superior job done by all the crew," added Johnston. "Another person gets to go home and be with their loved ones. There is no greater feeling."
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio