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Coast Guard rescues ailing man far off the North Carolina coast

A ham radio operator in Florida helped the Coast Guard rescue a man far off the North Carolina coast on Saturday.

Coast Guard officials said a rescue helicopter pulled the unnamed 57-year-old man suffering chest pains off the cutter Spencer after its crew rendezvoused with his sailboat and retrieved him Saturday morning about 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras.

Public Affairs Specialist 2nd Class Corinne Zilnicki told Navy Times on Sunday that watchstanders at the Fifth District Command Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, received the first alerts from the Personal Locator Beacon and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon registered to the 48-foot sailboat Marie Elena around noon on Friday.

But communication with the sailboat crew wasn’t established until about 30 minutes later, when a high frequency radio operator with the Maritime Mobile Service Network in Inverness, Florida, established a connection between the watchstanders in Virginia and the Marie Elena’s crew, Zilnicki said.

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The sailboat crew requested a medical evacuation. But because it was so far offshore, Coast Guard command center personnel urged them to turn toward Cape Hatteras.

The cutter Spencer, which was underway near the Virginia-North Carolina border, was redirected to the Marie Elena.

Because the Netherlands-flagged heavy load cargo ship Rolldock Sky was about 40 miles from the sailboat, Coast Guard watchstanders urged the vessel’s captain to try to close the gap and aid the ailing mariner, officials said.

But when the Rolldock Sky reached the sailboat, very rough seas prevented the crew from safely medevacing the man. So the Marie Elena kept sailing toward the barrier islands.

The Spencer reached the sailboat about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and launched a small boat crew to retrieve the patient.

An hour later at Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina, an MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter and an HC-130 Hercules extended-range search and rescue plane took off to rendezvous with the cutter.

The Jayhawk crew hoisted the man off the Spencer and then flew him to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, takes care of an ailing mariner on Saturday. (Coast Guard video screenshot)
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, takes care of an ailing mariner on Saturday. (Coast Guard video screenshot)

Zilnicki said that officials do not have an update on the man’s condition.

Coast Guard officials in Norfolk on Sunday credited the ham radio operator and the Marie Elena’s Personal Locator Beacon and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon for helping to make the rescue operation a success.

“The fact that the EPIRB and PLB were registered and utilized properly allowed us to home in on the sailboat’s location," said Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Unser, the search and rescue coordinator for the case, in a release. “The assistance we received from the ham radio operator was crucial in helping us communicate with the vessel’s crew.”

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