Sunday, March 2, 2014


Flight crew with Air Rescue Helo 6578 on beach in front of Wilson home.
Hog Island is visible in background, above tail section.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

U. S. Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 6578 landed safely on the snow along the eastern shore of Washington Island this morning, in what was termed a "precautionary emergency landing" by aircraft commander LT. Chris Breuer.

The MH-65C "Dolphin" helicopter with four crew aboard had taken off from the U. S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City around 7:50 a.m. EST.   As their aircraft flew over Lake Michigan and approached within approximately ten miles of Wisconsin's shoreline, intending to fly over Washington Island enroute to a search and rescue assignment (SAR) near Ashland, Wisconsin, a "flight control issue" arose.   A decision was then made to land along the flat, broad portion of beach just south of Hog Island and the Percy Johnson County Park, an area separated from the trees along shore and the open lake waters by ice banks and snow covered rocks.

According to LT. Breuer, flying further inland wasn't a prudent risk.  It would have been a flight path over trees for another several miles, extending their air time in an effort to reach open fields, or perhaps the Island Airport.   While he couldn't speculate on the nature of the mechanical issues encountered, other than to verify that it was not a fuel related problem, such landings, while not routine, are occasionally made, always with safety of both crew and aircraft foremost in mind.

With landing wheels now deep in snow and the aircraft unable to be flown, the most likely resolution to repairing the helo will be to lift it by crane to a flatbed truck, and transport it back to their air station, rather than perform on-the-spot repairs.  Engineering tech support at the Traverse City airbase will determine just when and how the helo extrication might be accomplished.   When this is sorted out, likely by early afternoon today (Sunday), Breuer's crew will be airlifted back to their base.  A "salvage" detail will then likely take over to ready the plane for lifting and transport, first by ferry, and then via highway back to a facility where it can be properly repaired.

Air crew secured rotors in preparation for their anticipated departure later today.

The helo crew includes:  Aircraft Commander LT Chris Breuer;  Co-pilot Jim Okorn;  Flight Mechanic Matt Lussier; and Rescue Swimmer Tom McArthur.   The crew had responded to a call around 5 a.m., an "uncorrelated Mayday" reported from the Ashland area, which, according to Breuer, could be almost anything, including an ice fisherman or snowmobiler needing assistance.  It was unlikely, he said, due to the heavy ice conditions in that area, that this call would have come from a vessel in distress.

According to Breuer, his aircraft had been used earlier last evening by a nighttime crew, before his crew responded to the Ashland call.  They were in the air some 50 minutes, he said, before putting down in front of the Jim and Janet Wilson home around 7:45 a.m. CST.

"Did you head for the widest stretch of flat beach, or the nearest home with smoke curling from the chimney?" I joked, noting the warm, comfortable surroundings of the Wilson home.  Safe landing was foremost on their minds, I was assured, with the nearby hospitality of the Wilsons an added bonus.

By the time I arrived to interview the crew, around 9:45 a. m., the Wilsons had just departed for Sunday morning worship service, leaving their lakeshore home in the hands of the air crew, plus the Island's two policemen, Gary Schulz and Tyler McGrane.   The morning was fresh, with bright sunshine, temperatures slightly below zero, with very little wind.  Circumstances could certainly have been more extenuating, the crew noted, than along this shoreline, a location where a century or more ago crews of sail schooners sometimes found themselves wrecked.

Aircraft Commander LT Chris Breuer
While LT Breuer was occupied with phone and email traffic, coordinating plans going forward, he also kindly answered my questions.  Crew members' families had been provided notice of their status, each man noted.  After a quick couple of photos taken in front of the fireplace, scenes that might depict their situation as just a bit too comfortable, considering the circumstances behind the forced landing, the crew donned their boots and winter gear and waded through the snow to secure the helo in preparation for their anticipated departure for home base.
L to R:  Pilot LT Chris Breuer, Rescue Swimmer Tom McArthur,
Co-pilot Jim Okorn, (and seated) Flight Mechanic Matt Lussier. 

The Coast Guard regularly assigns helicopter crews to assess ice conditions for commercial shipping, operations called "ice reconnaissance." This is one reason why, periodically through the winter, Islanders can see or hear helicopters flying overhead.  Great Lakes shipping has been slowed greatly by this winter's ice conditions, but vessels that still operate - or that will begin their 2014 season soon - rely on both satellite reports and the Coast Guard's eyes to assess navigation conditions.   And, there are also the several Coast Guard ice breakers and the administrative commands at the various Coast Guard Sectors of Operation that use such ice updates to advantage.

Islanders, ferry operators and commercial fishermen, or any citizen with extraordinary medical need, may also find comfort in the fact that four such helicopters are assigned to the Traverse City Air Station. These aircraft generally have much quicker response time than a vessel, weather permitting, should there be a need for flight rescue assistance.

-  Dick Purinton


Anonymous said...

Great article! We'd love to use some of your pictures in our TV story tonight on ABC 10. Please contact me if that's possible -

Anonymous said...

Thank God they're all safe. They put their lives on the line every day for us and I, personally, cannot thank them enough. You are all very much appreciated and I hope I never need your services, but if I do, thank you in advance. Please stay safe!

Anonymous said...

Very nice blog entries. As a matter of clarification, the helicopter is a Eurocopter (now Airbus), AS365 Dauphin. Thanks for sharing the story and photos!

Anonymous said...

It is not a AS365. The MH-65 and HH-65 are 366GA's or SA366 depending on what manual you are looking at