NEW ORLEANS — A passenger on the cruise ship Carnival Dream, shot cellphone video of a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter battling strong wind and heavy rain as it approached the ship off the coast of Fort Morgan, Alabama.
Watch standers received a call from the ship early Saturday morning, requesting a medivac for a 76-year-old man experiencing heart attack-like symptoms. According to the Coast Guard, a severe squall caused the aircrew from Air Station New Orleans to back off from the ship and abort the mission.
The helicopter then encountered a severe downwind, prompting the crew to pull up, near choppy seas. Video shows the helicopter dipping dangerously close to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
“Through exceptional real time risk management and superb piloting, our air crew was safely able to recover the aircraft and return to Air Station New Orleans without further incident,” said Cmdr. Keith Blair, commanding officer, Air Station New Orleans.
A second helicopter crew later returned to the scene and hoisted the patient into the aircraft. They transferred him to emergency medical services personnel at University Medical Center.
UMC Emergency Management Director Dr. Jeffrey Elder watched the video of the rescue attempt.
“To see first responders out there in the U.S. Coast Guard in these horrible weather conditions, trying to get a patient up on to a helicopter, in the middle of the gulf and then back to a hospital, it really shows the dedication that these crews have that puts the patient ahead of their own safety at times,” Elder said.
Dr. Elder says in an emergency, seconds count and what Coast Guard responders did on Saturday, made a difference.
“I think people don’t realize how much work sometimes goes into just getting the patient to the hospital in these extreme circumstances.”
Cmdr. Blair says the aircrew was able to stabilize the patient’s condition on route to the hospital.
“I’m really glad our crew made it back safely and I’m also really glad we were able to successfully complete the mission and deliver the patient to a higher level of care.”
The Coast Guard made the rescue about 300 miles offshore.
An aircraft from the Coast Guard station in Mobile assisted in Saturday’s rescue.
The Carnival Dream is based out of Galveston, Texas.