Monday, March 3, 2014


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The photos above and left make it seem as though the task to remove the U. S. Coast Guard Air Rescue Helicopter from its position on an east side beach was rather easy.

In fact, it took Maintenance Chief John Lee and his crew of five men most of the day, working in temperatures that never went above 12 degrees, to remove rotor blades, dig out the aircraft, slide it to an open area, winch it aboard their trailer, and secure the load for the highway.  A second trailer from Yacht Works in Sister Bay was also on hand, as was Tom Jordan's excavator to lift the aircraft, but the final decision was made to use the Coast Guard trailer brought from Traverse City, at least for the first leg of the trip to a yacht storage shed in Sister Bay.

By 3:45 p.m., the trucks, trailers and crew started down the temporary road plowed parallel to the beach, from in front of the home of Jim and Janet Wilson to the end of Lake View Road, a distance of just over 1/2 mile.  

Dismantling blades, securing the aircraft prior to removal from beach.
The location where the helo set down early Sunday morning happens to be a wide, flat stretch of beach, features not always found along the island's shoreline.  And, as providence would have it, this  location was also in close proximation to the only beach access road along the entire eastern shore of Washington Island, easing substantially one major obstacle to removing the aircraft by trailer from the beach.

Chief John Lee (second from left) and his salvage crew, ready to depart the
beach with helicopter secured to trailer.

Chief Lee isn't new to this particular routine.  He extricated this same aircraft just six weeks earlier from a farmer's field in lower Michigan.  Then, too, the pilot and crew had experienced "flight control problems," according to a news report, similar to the crew's experience in yesterday's cross-lake flight from the Traverse City Air Station.

This helicopter model (Eurocraft AS365 Dauphin) has been utilized by the Coast Guard since the early 1980s, and has been a serviceable workhorse during this time.  But, as Chief Lee noted, there are parts no longer stocked on the shelf or easily procured.

Such flight control problems, manifested now on several occasions, surely weigh on the minds of the Coast Guard command, and may serve to hasten the effort to renew the fleet.  In 2010, according to one news release, the Traverse City Air Station Commander requested replacement Jayhawk helicopters, newer aircraft with more power and longer range.  But, apparently, the cost, time of procurement, training, parts…all were a part of the challenge to effect change.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard's air and ground crews, not to mention the occasional citizen whose life may one day depend on such machinery, would certainly prefer the use of the safest and most robust aircraft available.  Days for aging "Dolphin" helos like #6578 may be numbered, with safety compromised if deployment of this aircraft continues to be extended.

Time in the air for the "Dolphin" is something like 2 1/2 hours on a full tank, after which the aircraft requires refueling.  A flight to Washington Island from Traverse City, as an example, would take approximately one hour.  With one hour for the return flight, that leaves only 30 minutes on station, unless the aircraft is refueled.

View from the Wilson home toward the open lake.

Welcoming hosts:  the Wilsons

 When the crew of #6578 landed in front of their home around 7:50 Sunday morning, Janet was already up, and after the helicopter landed she soon saw one of the men coming toward their house.  Jim, still sleeping, had incorporated the whirr of the blades into his dream, believing he was again aboard Eagle III, the medivac helicopter that took him on an emergency flight to a Green Bay hospital in July of 2012.  It took him time to determine where he was and what the activity was all about.  It wasn't long before Jim joined Janet and the four men in their living room, sensing their relief for a safe landing.  It was at least an hour, Jim said, before he realized he wasn't yet dressed.

Janet and Jim Wilson gaze out their living room
deck window toward the helicopter.  
The activities of the past 30 hours in front of the Wilson home are now over.   The safe emergency landing - a precautionary landing - becomes a good story that might add push for the Coast Guard to renew this aging aircraft.

-  Dick Purinton


Don said...

You got a chance to display your reportorial skills beautifully: who, what, where, when, and how. Great couple of blogs.

They used that same helio in Copper Harbor, searching the waters for a body. Having used most of their fuel, they refueled in Marquette.

Bill Tobey said...

As Don said, great coverage Dick!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the photos and the story. Having flown helicopters in the USMC I can't begin to describe their versatility or capability and if I were a bazillionaire I would have one in the garage. The downside is that the ratio of maintenance hours to flight hours is very high necessitating constant service. The Dauphine is a great machine and the Coasties are superb as aviators but helos are (and by definition helo crews) are prone to precautionary landings. Sounds like they did a great job--we are lucky to have them on the lake.
Tad Gordon