U.S. Coast Guard Awards
Awarded 20 March 1950
At approximately 4:30 PM on 11 September 1949, SA Leonard Wisniewski received word that a San Francisco fisherman, while abalone fishing off the rocks of Moss Beach, about 100 yards south of the Point Montara (CA) Light Station, was washed of the rocks and carried 250 yards beyond the first line of breakers where he could not get back to shore. Upon arriving at Moss Beach, Wisniewski found the man floating about 200 yards off the shore with an inner tube around his waist. A Coast Guard plane arrived and dropped three life rafts to the man in the water, who managed to grasp one of them, but apparently did not know how to operate it. About this time he started to drift shoreward. The wind was calm, the sea mild, temperature of about 65 degrees, and visibility 15 miles.
At about this time, Mr. Ted Leopold was operating a "Hiller 360" crop dusting helicopter near the Moss Beach area when he was contacted. Taking a light piece of line, common quarter-inch manila, Leopold immediately flew to the spot where the man was struggling in the water and released the line.
Meanwhile, Wisniewski made his way over the jagged rocks and dived into the water and after a dangerous swim over and around the jagged rocks and very rough water, he approached within approximately 6 feet of the drowning man who was approximately 50 to 60 feet off shore.
Wisniewski grabbed the line released by Mr. Leopold in the helicopter and made a turn around his left hand. He then swam about three more strokes and grasped the drowning man. At this time the surf was pounding on the rocks only 40 feet from the point where Wisniewski arrived to assist the drowning man who was too weak and exhausted to fight to save his own life. Wisniewski held on to the line with his left hand and either held or supported the survivor with his right arm while both men were lifted by the helicopter and deposited safely by the helicopter on the top of the cliff.
The helicopter, equipped with two large dust hoppers, seriously restricted the pilot's vision, who originally planned to drop the rope and tow the men ashore. The rough water and pounding surf, however, made this plan impossible and necessitated a direct lift from the water to the top of the cliff. Leopold, unaware that two men were in the water, used maximum power and managed to lift the two men safely ashore in spite of the gusty wind, the rocky cliffs, and the overburdening weight of the two men which greatly overloaded the wheel-equipped helicopter, bringing its gross weight substantially above certified limits.