Wednesday October 29, 2008 US Coast Guard reported that rescue crews from six different units, including three Cutters and three Air Stations, responded to a sinking sailboat with three people onboard approximately 102 miles southeast of Atlantic City N.J., Wednesday.
Rescued were Dr. Kevin Hogan, a 52-year-old dentist and Teresa Gravie, 44 co-owner of GLC Construction of Mt Pleasant, SC. Phil Rubright, a 65-year-old Detroit resident was recovered but pronounced deceased by the Atlantic County Medical Examiner Office in Atlantic City.
Dr. Kevin Hogan
The crew of Free Fall had been battling heavy weather and had just gone below because of the worsening weather when a rouge wave rolled the 44 foot sail boat, which after many frightening moments righted itself. During the roll the boat's EPIRB was activated and carbon fiber mast broke off just above the boom. The roll also filled Free Fall with up to six feet of water, shorted out the electrial system which made both radio and bilge pumps inoperatble. The crew would spend the next 12 hours bailing water.
The Coast Guard began its search after watch standers at the Rescue Coordination Center in Portsmouth received the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
alert now trasmitting from the severely damaged 44 foot Swan sailboat.
After obtaining the location and confirming the identy of Free Fall as well as location, Coast Guard rescue crews, aboard a C-130J and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter were launched from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C.
(Questions remain as to why the Coast Guard didn't launch one of their helicopters from nearby Air Station Atlantic City in the first place. Further why the long delay from the time the EPIRB was active until, Air Station Elizabeth City launched the Jayhawk?)
Sailor Gail Bowdish recounts in her blog Shanti, building wind and seas 24 hours after she departed Mystic, CT. Bowdish was aboard Joy For All, a Farr 50 heading south as well and was approximatly 60 miles north of Free Fall when she first heard the USCG broadcast a PAN PAN PAN alert discribing an EPIRB signal indicating the vessel Free Fall in possiable distress.
At 21:00 on the 28th Sealand Pride was heading north for Europe on her regular bi-weekly run. She reported a position of 34.48N and 71.42W directly south of Free Fall. At the time she reported wind 260 at 52 knots and noted that a pressure reading of a very low 1000 mlb.
Upon hearing the same Pan Pan Pan hear by Gail Bowdish aboard Joy For All Sealand Pride altered course and began making way toward the stricken sailboat. It would take her another 9 hours to arrive on scene.
Around 1 AM, six hours after the rouge wave demasted Free Fall, the Elizabeth City rescue crews arrived on scene but were unable to hoist the three passengers from the FREE FALL due to the extreme weather conditions consisting of rain and 40-50 knot winds and 40-50 foot seas. Additionaly the pitching deck, which was covered with a tangle of rigging wire and lines increased the risk to an extreme level.
The rescue crew determined that in order to conduct a safe hoist the passengers and the rescue swimmer had to enter the water. The rescue swimmer and Mr. Rubright entered the water to attempt the hoist but the rescue basket and hoist cable were damaged by a large wave.
The helicopter crew then deployed a life raft and Mr. Rubright was placed in it. Reportedly another large wave hit and injured the rescue swimmer and tossed Mr. Rubright from the life raft. The injured rescue swimmer was unable to recover Mr. Rubright.
The helicopter crew employed the Emergency Recovery Device (ERD) to recover the rescue swimmer. This manual recovery device is only used during the most extreme circumstances and the person being hoisted must be trained and wear a rescue strap.
Without the means to recover Mr. Rubright, low on fuel after spending nearly 2 hours in the air the helicopter crew called for assistance and departed for Atlantic City to seek treatment for the injured rescue swimmer.
The Coast Guard then launched two MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crews from Air Station Atlantic City along with a HU-25 Falcon jet and a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews from Air Station Cape Cod, Mass. The 270-foot Coast Guard Cutters Northland and Seneca, along with the 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Mako were also dispatched to the scene.
At 06:00 on the 29th Sealand Pride reported the wind at 270 at 42 knots, but she was still 39 miles to the south of Free Fall but was making nearly 10 knots where she was only able to make and average of 5.3 knots in the heavy seas that held during the previous 9 hours.
Once on scene at 39.06N – 71.42W she was reported winds that had eased to 27 knots. Two hours later having drifted along with S/V Free Fall she reported a position of 39.06N – 71.36 33 knot winds out of 280 and resumed her voyage.
The Atlantic City helicopter crews were able to relocate the stricken vessels crew and relay the position to the incoming Cape Cod rescue crews.
Upon arriving on scene the Cape Cod helicopter crew recovered Mr. Rubright at around 5AM from the water and flew him to Atlantic City where he was pronounced dead by the Atlantic County Medical Examiner.
A second MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter USCG 6041 from Elizabeth City was dispatched to the scene and hoisted Hogan and Gravie. Rescue operation was completed at 8:15 AM, and Hogan and Gravie were flown to Air Station Atlantic City where they were turned over to local EMS crews and taken to a AtlatiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City for treatment.
Below is video off the second rescue attempt shot from a USCG Doplin helicopter at 1000 AGL. The first part of the video is shot using nightvision and the second part in normal vision.
USGC Video of the second rescue attempt
Both Hogan and Gravie suffered from mild hypothermia, cuts, brusies and in the case of Gravie a possiable concusion but and are reported in good condition.
Hogan (standing) waits for paramedics to transport him to a waiting ambulance.
Emergency personnel transfer Kevin Hogan, 52, to an awaiting ambulance USCG Photo
Teresa Gravie, 44, is transported to a waiting ambulance USCG Photo
USCG Video of the USCG Jayhawk helicopter 6041 landing at Air Station Atlantic City
In addition to the rescue of the sailing vessel Freefall, the Coast Guard is reporting the rescue and assistance of 4 other vessels and and 7 sailors during the October 27 - 29 2008 storms off the east coast.
The death of Mr. Rubright, is tragic and no doubt the USCG will conduct an in depth investigation regarding the chain of events that happened aboard S/V Freefall and during the first rescue attempt.
It's not like the coasties to tell someone to enter the water and then leave the scene. I'm sure the rescue swimmer took one heck of a beating and was severely injured or he would not have left the water without Mr. Rubright.-LFB
Photos of S/V Free Fall a 44 foot Swan US-777 from YachtWorld.com prior to her being sold, the listing has since be removed.