Two Coupeville men were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew today after their small boat was caught by strong winds and pushed out of Penn Cove and into Puget Sound.
The two men, and their dog, were hoisted to safety amidst 46-mph winds and six to seven-foot seas. No one was injured but all three were dropped off at Whidbey General Hospital.
"The wind caught us and took us away," said a cold Mike Haugen, outside the hospital's emergency room. "Luckily someone saw us from the beach and called for help… thank God they came."
Haugen's ordeal started this morning when he and a friend, Keith Porter, attempted to take their 18-foot Reinell runabout out of the water and put it onto a trailer at the Coupeville boat launch.
The situation turned from chore to emergency, however, as the unpowered vessel was quickly caught by heavy winds and pushed out of Penn Cove, with the two men and their dog trapped aboard.
According to Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin, concerned residents began reporting that the two men appeared to be in trouble at about 10:30 a.m. Firefighters launched an 18-foot rigid inflatable to go after them but the effort was called off due to the extreme conditions, he said.
The Coast Guard was alerted and the helicopter crew arrived on scene about 25 minutes after the first 911 call, but it took time from the small boat to be located, said Lt. Kelly Higgins, the pilot of the H-65 Dolphin helicopter.
While there is no such thing as a run-of-the-mill marine rescue, Higgins said hoisting two people and a dog from such a small vessel was challenging and made for a "unique" retreival.
The heavy weather conditions didn't make the job any easier."It was pretty sporty," she said.A rescue swimmer hopped in the water and the three occupants were all hoisted to safety.
By the time everyone was aboard the hovering helicopter, the boat appeared to have drifted several miles from the boat launch."They were about as far from land as you could get," said Lt. Tim Andersen, who operated the hoist.
The boat did not appear from the air to have been leaking or swamped and both men were wearing life jackets, but the situation was severe.
According to Andersen, the unpowered vessel had at times turned sideways to the wind and was being hammered by swell. At one point, it looked as if the tiny boat was endanger of capsizing, he said.The rescue earned the praise of Whidbey Island emergency responders.
Ian Tully, a paramedic with Whidbey General Hospital, said the aircrew arrived in lightening time and may very well have saved three lives."They barely even got their feet wet," said Tully, marveling that the two men and dog arrived at the hospital cold but largely dry.
Haugen and Porter said they didn't mean to go out into such extreme weather, that they had checked the forecast that morning and the conditions ended up being much worse than reported."They said five to 10 mph but it ended up being 40 mph," Haugen said.
Hartin said things could have turned out much worse if the boat had sunk or any of the men fallen overboard.
"Survival of people in the water around here, and in the winter, is measured in minutes," Hartin said.This is a good example of how winter weather conditions can be both unpredictable and hazardous, he said, and urged the public to be extra careful when deciding to get out on the water.