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Flotilla 054-03-03
 Kilmarnock, Virginia

 

 

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RAPPAHANNOCK "10" ACCIDENT - 05JUL10

 

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NEWS ARTICLE ARCHIVE

 

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CG STATION MILFORD HAVEN 1ST RESPONDERS RECEIVE CG ACHIEVEMENT MEDALS FOR RESCUING 9 VICTIMS OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK "10" ACCIDENT

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ON FRIDAY 16 JUL10 CAPT MARK OGLE, COMMANDER SECTOR HAMPTON ROADS (2ND FROM LEFT), VISITS CG STATION MILFORD HAVEN TO PRESENT CG ACHIEVEMENT MEDALS TO THE 1ST RESPONDERS OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER ACCIDENT ON 05JUL10. MK3 STEPHEN POPLIN COMES FORWARD TO RECEIVE HIS MEDAL.

 

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SN BRITTAINY LUKE (C) RECEIVES A CG ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL FROM CAPT MARK OGLE (L) & BMCS MATTHEW WELSH, OFFICER IN CHARGE (R).

 

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THE COAST GUARD MILFORD HAVEN TEAM THAT RESPONDED TO THE ACCIDENT AT RAPPAHANNOCK "10" ON 05JUL10 ON THE DECK OF CG 41503 (FRONT L to R): BM3 SEAN TULLY, MEC RICHARD GONZALEZ, & MK2 MILTON MARKS. (BACK L to R): AUX JIM THOMAS, SN KEVIN ZUERCHER, AUX AMY THOMAS, SN BRITTAINY LUKE, CAPT MARK OGLE, BMCS MATTHEW WELSH, & MK3 STEPHEN POPLIN. NOT PICTURED IS FN ERIN KEY.

 

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(L to R) MK3 STEPHEN POPLIN, SN BRITTAINY LUKE, & MK2 MILTON MARKS, IN THE CG STATION MILFORD HAVEN COMMS CENTER. MARKS WAS OFFICER OF THE DAY ON 05JUL, POPLIN STOOD THE RADIO WATCH DURING SEARCH & RESCUE OPERATIONS. MARKS & LUKE WERE BOTH ABOARD CG 41503.

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PRESS RELEASE

COAST GUARD STATION MILFORD HAVEN 1ST RESPONDERS RECEIVE COAST GUARD ACHIEVEMENT MEDALS

It was a dark moonless night.  The quiet was shattered by two United States Coast Guard and one Coast Guard Auxiliary rescue boats rushing up the Rappahannock River.  It looked surreal with blue, red, & amber lights flashing as the 1st responders navigated the Rappahannock River from Coast Guard Station Milford Haven and the Corrotoman River towards Rappahannock “10”. Marine radios were continuously passing updates among the three boats, Station Milford Haven, and Middlesex Rescue Units.

Coast Guard Auxiliary boats in coordination with Coast Guard Station Milford Haven had just completed “safety sweeps” of the Rappahannock River as dusk settled in.  It was the end of a holiday weekend; it was supposed to be a quiet night. Suddenly, just before 10:00 pm, Coast Guard Station Milford Haven received a call from the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office regarding a boat that hit a channel marker.  While gathering more information, the Search & Rescue alarm was activated; the Coast Guard was on the way!

Senior Chief Matthew Welsh, Officer in Charge at Station Milford Haven, receiving information on the accident from MK2 Milton Marks, Officer of the Day, immediately dispatched CG 41503, the station utility boat, with MEC Richard Gonzalez, Executive Officer, MK2 Milton Marks, BM3 Sean Tully, and SN Brittainy Luke aboard.

“The night of July 5th was a calm & routine holiday at Coast Guard Station Milford Haven” said MK 2 Marks.  “At 9:50 pm that all changed and changed for everyone involved.  We received a call about a vessel that struck an aid to navigation.  We sounded the SAR alarm and took off to the scene.  On our way I thought ok, this is just a normal case, no big deal. Little did I know it would be one of the greatest tragedies I have ever witnessed.”

BM3 Tully remarked “It seemed like any other duty night on holiday routine at Coast Guard Station Milford Haven.  When the SAR alarm sounded, everyone set into motion to use everything they’ve ever trained for in the Coast Guard.”

“It’s one of those moments where everything seems to slow to a crawl and you don’t know what to expect of the situation” continued SN Luke.

As more information came in, Welsh made another decision to get a Coast Guard Auxiliary unit to assist.  “Until we arrived on scene, we only had sketchy, conflicting information, and we were not sure what we were dealing with,” commented Welsh. “I just knew that I had to have additional eyes and ears on the scene quickly and I knew the Auxiliary had a unit closer to the accident.” So Welsh directed the watchstander on duty to call Coast Guard Auxiliarists Jim & Amy Thomas to ask them to launch their Auxiliary Facility AUX 27137 from the Corrotoman River.

Then as the true nature of the accident came into focus, Welsh made another decision to launch a second Coast Guard boat, so Welsh, FN Erin Key, & SN Kevin Zuercher also got underway aboard CG 25837 from Station Milford Haven.

FN Key was already off duty, recently transferred, and spending her last night at Station Milford Haven before reporting to her next duty station. Little did she know that this last night would be spent on the Rappahannock River saving lives.

SN Zuercher stated “When the station first received the call, the accident didn't seem that bad. Then as more details started coming in little by little, it became obvious that this was no minor accident. I started the evening on watch duty taking the initial calls, but Chief Welsh needed crew to launch CG 25837.”

MK3 Stephen Poplin relieved SN Zuercher on watch duty and would remain at his post till after 7:00 am. Initially Poplin stayed on the telephone gathering as much information as possible from the disoriented injured mariner. Then he maintained the radio guard getting operations and position reports every 30 minutes all night for the three Coast Guard and Auxiliary rescue units. From listening to the radio communications from Station Milford Haven, MK3 Poplin remarked “The mission could not have gone smoother. This was an all-hands case involving the Coast Guard, Auxiliary, along with a number of other agencies, and the communications between them all was super”.   

Chief Gonzalez, Executive Officer of Station Milford Haven, aboard CG 41503 began communicating with Middlesex Rescue units and AUX 27137, as the first of the two Coast Guard boats to arrive on scene he became the On Scene Commander.

While making way up the river, he directed the AUX 27137 to proceed immediately to Water View on Parrots Creek to pick up EMS personnel and equipment.  “His experience and knowledge really paid off,” said Jim Thomas, coxswain of the Auxiliary rescue boat.  “Making that decision before arriving at the scene saved a very important 15-20 minutes, at a time when every minute counted.  Getting medical personnel on scene quickly to start treating seriously injured victims saved lives.”

Once Gonzalez arrived at scene, he reported the severity of the accident to the Command Center at Sector Hampton Roads, and a rescue helicopter from Elizabeth City North Carolina was launched to assist in rescue operations.  After assessing the situation Gonzalez decided to conduct a helo basket hoist off the deck of CG 41503 for one unresponsive child.  During this time EMS personnel assessed the other injured victims, 4 of which also needed life flights to MCV, a level 1 trauma center in Richmond, Virginia. AUX 27137 started conducting sector searches looking for the missing person that was ejected from the boat. The three Coast Guard & Auxiliary boats worked tirelessly through the night transporting EMS personnel and equipment, evacuating the victims to Water View for life flight or ambulance rides, and continued conducting search and rescue operations for the missing person.

"It was definitely the worst boating accident I've seen in my 17 years with the U.S. Coast Guard," said Gonzalez.

“What we encountered will be in our heads for the rest of our lives” said MK2 Marks. “The boat ran into a steel piling, ejecting people all around the boat and some off the boat. It was the worst incident I have dealt with in my 9 years in the Coast Guard. I was highly impressed with the aid we rendered to the 9 victims. The whole crew did an outstanding job and more than likely saved the lives of some of the people onboard that vessel.”

BM3 Tully remarked “I can honestly say that in my life, I have never been more prepared and yet under prepared, at the same time. It was the most shocking and eye popping experience I’ve ever had. The thing that will always remain with me from this case is the lasting effects on the children. It was a sad, tragic state of affairs.”

 “Upon arrival the scene was not what we expected, all I could think about is that we have to save these people” added SN Luke.

SN Zuercher said “On the way I started preparing myself mentally for what I might see, even with doing so, it wasn't enough. I saw and experienced some things that many people never get to see or experience. I wish I could forget some of the things that I saw, but unfortunately I never will."

That night the Coast Guard Station Milford Haven “Team” of Active and Auxiliary members worked side by side to evacuate the 9 surviving victims of this horrible accident so they could get the medical attention that saved lives. Amy Thomas, Auxiliary coxswain added, “I am extremely proud to be a member of Team Coast Guard and have the opportunity to assist during this type of emergency situation.  Everyone involved in the Coast Guard effort rose to meet the needs of the victims, gave their very best effort, and successfully completed the mission. I’ll never forget them, their skill and compassion saved lives.”   

For their outstanding efforts, CAPT Mark Ogle, Captain of the Port & Commander Sector Hampton Roads visited Station Milford Haven on Friday July 16th to present MK2 Milton Marks, BM3 Sean Tully, MK3 Stephen Poplin, FN Erin Key, SN Brittainy Luke, and SN Kevin Zuercher, with the Coast Guard Achievement Medal.

The Achievement Medal is awarded to enlisted personnel for outstanding leadership, professional achievement, and superior performance of duty in either peacetime or combat situations. The awards begin “cited for superior performance of duty while serving as Boat Crewmember and First Responder” and concludes with “diligence, perseverance, and devotion to duty are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard. The Operational Distinguishing Device is authorized”.

CAPT Ogle, who spent the entire night at the command center at Water View, remarked “The Team of Active & Auxiliary personnel at Station Milford Haven did a great job in one of the worst boating accidents I’ve ever seen”. Awards for BMCS Welsh, MEC Gonzalez, along with Auxiliarists Jim & Amy Thomas will be presented at a later date.

BMCS Welsh added “I could not be more proud of my Team at Station Milford Haven. We spend hours & hours training so that when the SAR alarm sounds, our Active & Auxiliary team members are prepared for whatever mission skill-sets are needed. That night all the training we do to enhance these skills were utilized, lives were saved.”

Team Coast Guard at Station Milford Haven remains “Semper Paratus”, always ready.

 

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