Lt. Russ Merrick just completed aircraft familiarization with an MH-65D Short Range Recovery helicopter May 10 at Coast Guard Station Fire Island on the south shore of Long Island, N.Y. Merrick and his helicopter crew were conducting rescue training, hoisting alongside a 47-foot motor lifeboat. Shortly thereafter, the station received a call from a good Samaritan who had found two jet skis adrift in Great South Bay, near Babylon.
“As we responded to the scene, we were advised that there was still an unrecovered person in the water,” said Merrick, the MH-65D’s pilot. “The good Samaritan and the jet skis were only a few miles from where we were training.”
They located the boat and the jet skis; by that time there were a number of boats searching the area. Merrick and his crew adjusted their search based on the drift of the current and the fact that since he was conscious when he entered the water, the unrecovered person would likely be swimming for shore against the wind.
Copilot Lt. John Walters entered a sector search into the helicopter’s control display unit, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Caleb Flippin, a rescue swimmer, spotted the person in the water on the second leg of the search.
“He was wearing a life jacket, but he was very difficult to see as he was mostly under the surface of the water and unable to signal us as we searched the area,” Merrick said. “I put the swimmer in for an Eagle Eye Award since I don’t know if I would have ever seen the guy due to the wind chop and on-scene conditions.”
They decided to hoist the survivor into the helicopter given the water temperature and the amount of time he had been in the water. After free-falling the rescue swimmer, the crew did a basket recovery of the survivor and a sling recovery of the swimmer. The flight mechanic, Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan Dinsmore, manned the hoist, and Dinsmore and Flippin then treated the survivor for hypothermia. They transported him to a nearby hospital in stable condition.
The helicopter crew completed the rescue approximately 15 minutes after the initial call for help. The survivor later wrote a letter to Flippin, telling him that he was sure he would have died had their helicopter not shown up when it did.
The Coast Guard’s H-65 helicopters are well into their conversion and sustainment project, which includes upgrading 95 aircraft and procuring seven new ones. The end result is to extend the H-65 helicopters’ service lives through 2027. The H-65 Dolphin series has been in the Coast Guard’s inventory since 1984.
The conversion project will be accomplished in six successive discrete segments. The H-65s flying out of Air Station Atlantic City have all completed the first four discrete segments—through the Delta upgrade—giving them the MH-65D designation. The May 10 rescue was Merrick’s first live hoist with the completed D upgrade.
The Dolphin’s D upgrades deliver digital avionics components, including a new flight navigation system, new digital computer displays and embedded GPS. These upgrades are critical to the helicopter’s continued safe and effective flight performance. They also provide the crew with improved situational awareness and enhanced navigation and communications. The Coast Guard held a ceremony Sept. 16 at Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., where Lt. Merrick and his crew are based, to recognize the enhanced mission capabilities of the MH-65D.