Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rescue beacons for sailors: Don't leave home without 'em

Among Superstorm Sandy's casualties was the three-master Bounty. Two people died: sailor Claudene Christian and the master of the replica vessel, Robin Walbridge (Photo, Reuters):
But fourteen of the crew were saved, courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. Here's video of the rescue:
 News of the successful mission reminded me of a conference I attended in Dallas in February, the Goodrich Rescue Hoist Users Group. A rescue hoist in action looks like this:
The hoist is mounted in the white fairing at the upper right of the photo. The wire rope is barely visible because it's so small in gauge. 

Here's a link to the specs on a Goodrich hydraulic hoist with 160 feet of usable cable.
The annual user-group event, which is small in size but international in scope, is a chance to share lessons learned between pilots, EMTs, hoist operators, flight mechanics, and incident commanders. After giving my talk on the history of high-rise rescue (drawn from extra research files I gathered when writing The God Machine) I took a seat, glad for the chance to learn from the experts in helo-based rescue.

One of those I talked with was retired USCG rescue swimmer Butch Flythe, who later put me in touch with the pilot of one of the two Jayhawks that went out to pluck Bounty survivors from Hurricane Sandy's 30-foot waves.  
The helos are based out of Air Station Elizabeth City - here's the unit's Facebook link.

My question to Lt. Commander Steve Cerveny of Jayhawk 6012: "What's something that search and rescue crews would like the seafaring public to keep in mind?" His reply: 
"The one thing that stands out in any case, but in this one in particular, is locating the survivors.  The first person we picked up was located by our C-130 and I was directed immediately to them because of the light on their survival suit.  So this day and age I think everyone is thinking technology in the way of an EPIRB to be found and rescued.  That’s only part of it in my mind…I think it gets us very close, but if you have a signaling device when we get close it saves us time from having to look for the survivor.  The lights on the people and rafts in this SAR case were instrumental in 14 people being rescued as quickly as they were."
Following are links about the items that LCDR Cerveny referred to.

An EPIRB is a radio beacon for summoning distant rescuers to a sinking vessel or crashed airplane. Newer EPIRBs include a GPS unit that sends out a geo-located signal. 

A personal beacon is a small locator unit attached to the upper portion of an immersion suit. Depending on how much that person wants to pay it can feature a strobe light, a radio transmitter, or both. Here's a Firefly model:

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