by Jason Leppert
Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Tue September 13, 2016
Having sailed on over a hundred cruises, I've witnessed several medical evacuations from ships over the years thanks to the valiant support of our United States Coast Guard, and this year, USCG Aviation is celebrating its centennial.
In 2015, my parents and I were sailing aboard Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 cutting across the North Atlantic Ocean, and one of our fellow passengers had to be airlifted from the ship for health reasons, no small task while in the middle of the ocean far from land. But the Coast Guard was up to it and sent a EADS HC-144A Ocean Sentry medium-range fixed-wing aircraft and a Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk medium-range helicopter (pictured above) to accomplish the objective.
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The expansive upper deck of the ocean liner is large enough to accept a chopper landing, so the crew prepared for the Jayhawk's arrival by spraying down the deck with precautionary fire retardant foam. The Ocean Sentry was first to arrive, circling the vessel in preparation for the helicopter which followed shortly behind. With its landing gear deployed, the Jayhawk set down on the deck and strapped in the guest in need. After a brief landing, both aircraft swiftly departed to take the patient to receive more extensive attention.
The Queen Mary 2, of course, has medical facilities, but some serious situations require more exhaustive care, and the USCG is there to help facilitate it. Smaller cruise ships are not able to accept a helicopter landing. In those cases, we've seen airlifts where a stretcher basket is lowered and then raised back up with the passenger drawn into the hold, a seemingly more precarious approach that the Coast Guard is also capable of performing very safely.
The Coast Guard and cruise industry have a very close relationship that even extends to the USCG Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise. The center's website explains its purpose as follows: "The Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise (CSNCOE), located in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is the repository of Coast Guard expertise and best practices on the FPVE program and is focused on raising the competency, capabilities, and consistency Coast Guard wide in the field of cruise ship safety, environmental, and security requirements and examinations."
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Now for 2016, the Coast Guard is "Celebrating 100 years of distinguished aviation service by the men and women of the United States Coast Guard through historic aircraft restoration, public education, widely attended events and unit-based functions, all designed to recognize Coast Guard Aviation's unique contribution to our Nation's wellbeing," according to a centennial website.
As a proud citizen of the United States and frequent cruise traveler, I say thank you to the United States Coast Guard and its past years of service, as well as its continuing mission to protect us all at sea.
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