Two boat crews from Coast Guard Station Grand Isle and a helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans received heroism awards from the Coast Guard Foundation during the Tribute to the Guardians of the Heartland dinner in New Orleans on February 7. The Foundation recognized the crews for the rescue of twelve people whose boat struck an oil rig.
All twelve were aboard the Slick Liquor, a 41-foot power boat that veered out of control and struck an oil rig five miles from Belle Pass on June 16, 2002. The cause of the collision is unknown.
The impact sheared the bow, leaving a gaping hole. Six of the passengers were hurled into the water. Six others, below at the time, scrambled forward to escape through the hull. Among the victims were two with life-threatening injuries: a broken back and a broken femur.
Coast Guard Station Grand Isle received the MAYDAY and sent two boats to the scene. A five-man helicopter crew from Air Station New Orleans also responded.
Petty Officer Aaron Marceron, coxswain of the 23-foot safe boat, was first on scene. "We figured the Slick Liquor must have hit the rig head-on," he says. “We saw a three-foot portion of the bow missing. Six of the passengers had climbed on to the rig and the others were about 500 feet away in the water." Some with minor injuries were helped by oil rig supply vessels. One man with a possible back injury was held against the hull of a small inflatable by its skipper.
Marceron knew he could not safely move the injured man. "I just told him to hang on, a helicopter was on the way." He, along with crew members Petty Officer Stephen Langenmayr and Seaman Samantha Miller helped some of the wounded on to the 23-footer and began first aid.
The Dolphin helicopter arrived from Air Station New Orleans and deployed two rescue swimmers. Petty Officers Maximo Mida and Matthew Thiessen faced the difficult task of stabilizing broken bones in the water.
Thiessen swam to the man with a broken femur, who was secured by life ring to the 23-foot Coast Guard safe boat. Two other uninjured passengers from the Slick Liquor tried to keep the man stable as his leg swung side to side with the current.
"He was screaming in pain," says Thiessen. “I knew it was important to get his leg immobilized quickly. If that bone cut an artery, he could bleed to death."
With all available rescue baskets in use, and faced with a near-impossible in-water immobilization of a femur fracture, the swimmer improvised. He asked the boat crew for a traction splint, a complicated, six piece device used to pull traction on a broken leg. Yet in ten minutes, Thiessen assembled the splint and immobilized the leg. By that time, a 41-foot Coast Guard utility boat from Grand Isle had arrived, and Thiessen transferred the stabilized patient to the vessel.
Four hundred yards away, swimmer Maximo Mida had secured the man with the broken back into the helicopter rescue basket. The patient was flown to Terrebone General Hospital by pilot Lt. Michael Brandhuber, co-pilot Lt. Haper Phillips, and tended by flight mechanic Petty Officer Allen Campbell.
Mida and Thiessen stayed behind to help Petty Officer Jay Galazin and other crewmen from the 41-footer triage seven of the remaining victims. Their injuries included a broken ankle, head trauma, broken shoulders and lacerations. All were transported to Port Fouchon. Those uninjured had already been brought to shore by local agencies, including LaForche and Grand Isle Sheriff’s Departments and several Chevron offshore supply vessels.
"This was a great example of teamwork at its best," says Petty Officer Michael Holmes, coxswain of the 41-footer, and on scene commander. “We were fortunate to have volunteers willing to a assist, especially when the number of victims outnumbered the resources."
Full list of CG crew members responding:
From CG 233517, Station Grand Isle, LA
BM3 Aaron Marceron
MK3 Stephen Langenmayr
SN Samantha Miller
From Air Station New Orleans:
Lt. Michael Brandhuber
Lt. Harper Phillips
AMT3 Allen Campbell
AST3 Maximo Mida
AST3 Matthew Thiessen
From CG 41426, Station Grand Isle, LA
BM1 Michael Holmes
BM2 Anthony Cassisa
BM3 Daniel Grather
MK3 Michael Miller
FN Bailey Neft
BM2 Jay Galazin