This is a post by NOAA’s Captain Michele Finn. All links leave this blog.
Recently, our friends at the United States Coast Guard (USCG) sustained a horrible blow. On the night of February 28, 2012, an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter (forever to be known as CG6535) crashed into Alabama’s Mobile Bay, losing four very important members of our emergency response community.
Three of the four members of the flight crew were stationed at the Aviation Training Center, Mobile Lieutenant Commander Dale Taylor, originally from North Carolina and a very active member of the Mobile, Ala., community, was the Aircraft Commander and Instructor Pilot. Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge, a twenty year veteran of the Coast Guard and a California native, was a highly experienced rescue swimmer and instructor. Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight, a native Alabama guy from Thomasville, was the flight engineer. Lieutenant junior grade Thomas Cameron, a USCG Academy graduate originally from Oregon, was on temporary duty from USCG Air Station Borinquen (Puerto Rico) undergoing flight training to become a Search and Rescue Pilot. The flight on February 28 was the last step in the qualification process for Lieutenant junior grade Cameron.
Starting immediately after the crash that night and continuing until the afternoon of March 8, the Coast Guard was immersed in a heart-wrenching search for their own guys. While Fernando was found the first night, the search effort spent several days in inclement weather before finding the two pilots, Dale and Tom. Finally, Drew was found a few hours after the memorial service was held for the crew at the Aviation Training Center. Ten excruciating days for the Coast Guard Search and Rescue team and the many local rescue groups that worked together around the clock to bring those boys home.
Watching this tragedy unfold from the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (also located in Mobile), I realized once again how grateful I am for two things. First, I am grateful that the Coast Guard takes such good care of NOAA. Immediately after learning about the crash, I wrote down a list of ways that the Coast Guard has helped me do my job.
How many unique items were on the final list? 32. Thirty-two different ways that the Coast Guard enabled me to complete tasks critical to the NOAA mission, or made my job easier, or just made accomplishing tasks way more fun. As a NOAA employee, one or more members of the Coast Guard can often be found standing in front of me leading the way, standing next to me helping shoulder the burden, or standing behind me watching my back. True fox hole buddies—the U.S. Coast Guard.
Second, I am grateful that the new NOAA Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center is located in Mobile, Ala. The response to the crash of helicopter CG6535 from the Mobile area rescue community was heroic. But the overwhelming support from the public for the crewmembers’ families and for the Coast Guard as a whole was spectacular, in my opinion. I believe the Coast Guard felt the same way.
On March 2, the Coast Guard’s official blog named the Mobile community the “Shipmate of the Week.” The following is a quote taken from that blog post:
“In keeping with what makes America the greatest country in the world and Mobile, Ala., a Coast Guard City, the community came together to support the Coast Guard during search and rescue operations for Lt. Cmdr. Dale Taylor, Lt. j.g. Thomas Cameron, Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge and Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight.”
How lucky are we to have a new NOAA response facility in this awesome community?
The U.S. Coast Guard has eleven different missions, all related to the safety and security of Americans. Semper Paratus, their motto, means “Always Ready.” Always. It does not mean “Ready When the Weather is Good,” or “Ready When There Aren’t Any Bad People Involved,” or “Ready Monday through Friday From the Hours 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Excluding Holidays.”
In order to be “Always Ready,” you have to train to operate in nasty weather and work in nasty situations. In the aviation world (where I come from), “Always Ready” means you need to “Fly like you train, train like you fly.” There are significant risks in the execution of each of the Coast Guard’s eleven missions, and making sure that they are “Always Ready” means that training for those missions involves some of those risks too. From this NOAA employee, I feel tremendous appreciation for all members of the Coast Guard and for what they do for us each day, around the clock, and on weekends and holidays.
And on behalf of the staff at the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, I would like to say that our thoughts and sincere sympathy are with the families and friends of Lieutenant Commander Dale Taylor, Lieutenant junior grade Thomas Cameron, Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight.
Our thoughts, sympathy, and deep respect are with the Aviation Training Center Command, Coast Guard Sector Mobile Command, and all of the local rescue crews and community groups that searched for these young men and took such good care of their families. We feel honored to be part of your community.
Currently the Deputy Director and Operations Manager of the new NOAA Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Ala., Captain Michele Finn has spent 24 years as a NOAA Commissioned Corps Officer supporting NOAA in a number of operational, management and leadership roles. She is a senior NOAA aviator with a Master of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Hawaii and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston.