On August 16th, Gerald LaFreniere hit a hole in one at the Beaver Island Golf Course on hole #6. Congratulations, Gerald!
Story and photos by Jeff Cashman of the Beaver Beacon
Having heard that a Coast Guard helicopter would lift a person from the deck of a boat in the harbor as a training exercise with the new Sheriff's rescue boat, people gathered around Paradise Bay on the morning of Wednesday, August 9 th , and stood listening for the sound of a chopper in the air. Not having had a rescue boat for several years, Beaver Island was overjoyed a few weeks prior to receive a new RIB from the Grand Traverse Band, complete with 200 hp outboard and trailer. We've grown accustomed to amazingly fast responses in our greatest times of need on the Island, so a year ago, the tragic drowning accident so close to home and yet so far away at Garden Island was a real shock. The new rescue boat will allow our Island's Deputies and volunteer lifesavers to offer assistance should a nearby accident occur in the coming years. The Coast Guard has always provided a wonderful sense of security for boaters, and has been priceless in bad weather, when the Island can seem so distant and isolated. Now the new RIB will let us help them help us.
Early that morning, Beaver Island volunteer lifesavers and the Deputies had already staged a training session at the school. The session ran to three hours because the helicopter was delayed when a foundering dinghy was spotted in-route; the crew did a search to see if it was simply a boat broken loose or if people might be in the water. But a few hours later they landed, and the exercises proceeded as planned. Four coastguardsmen, plus EMTs Ken Bruland, Dawn Traficante, Cindy Gillespie, Emily Gray, and myself as an observer, were aboard the 41' Coast Guard Utility Boat, and Deputy John Heise, Deputy Nicole Smith, Gerald LaFreniere, Jim Stambaugh, and Galen Bartels set off in the new Sheriff's boat. The helicopter lifted off from Welke's, and in no time was hovering at a distance.
Everyone gathered around the radio to hear the mission brief. A quick summary of what needed to be done was given, with the course, speed, and conditions, as well as the number of people on board. Then the helicopter came closer, and lower, and closer and lower still -- the small sleek chopper becoming a turbine-driven powerhouse as it hovered less than 10' over the Utility Boat's antenna mast. The boat proceeded 30-40 degrees to windward at some speed, so the helicopter could fly -- it's easier to make things stand still while the two are in controlled motion.
The 100-mile-an-hour wash from the rotors created circles of spray on the surface of the lake which moved through the light chop pushing the normal currents aside, and in gusts, the spray hit us like horizontal rain. The earplugs we had been given proved useful, as the noise under the wash was impressive, and deafening. But the Coastguardsmen went about the procedure as if it were an everyday matter, without a single stroke of wasted effort.
The basket was lowered to a foot above the boat where it was hooked – a thick wire and clamp dissipated the static charge induced by the air movement of the helicopter. Then the basket was brought in and a Coastguardsman stepped inside, with his limbs within the metal caging and his head on the padded float. A few seconds later the basket was raised and then reeled up, up and away to alongside the helicopter by the airman skillfully operating the lift while peering down from the open door above.
Since the helicopter was short on fuel due to the unplanned search, the next demonstration proceeded quickly: the basket and coastgardsman were lowered into the lake as if scooping a person from the water. It was surprising how tiny a person's head appeared in the lake under the chopper, even surrounded by the crop circle whipped by this very real flying object. As quickly as it was lowered, the basket was once again reeled up, and the Coastguardsman returned to the deck of our boat.
Then the helicopter approached the new Sheriff's boat to simulate a pickup; since a small boat would be blown around by the wash a lot more than our 15-ton Utility Boat, it was important to get a feel for what this might be like.
Finally a method of lowering first a line and then the basket with a control line from the boat was rehearsed. Then the helicopter had to depart for the mainland, and with a wave from Whiskey point and from our boat, was away. It had provided an exciting demonstration, with boat and helicopter in perfect harmony.
With the remaining time, a search pattern exercise was carried out. A buoy was dropped as a datum, and then, at 6 knots and using compass and watch, a search pattern was followed to cover the area.
The day on the water could have seemed like just a lot of fun, until one remembered that in the classroom they had talked about things like how long a victim of a given age and in a given condition could survive and how this would impact a search. Or that the small buoy they dropped was more visible than the head of an actual victim in the water. Or that in a real situation, instead of a nice calm day, it would likely be 5 or 10 foot seas, and they would still have to be steadier on deck than I was as an observer on this pleasant afternoon. Then the time and effort put in on their training exercises all came home; with the help of the Coast Guard and the GTB, the help offered by our Island's volunteer organizations and our deputies will be better than ever.