Helicopter crews and mechanics serving with the U.S. Coast Guard have been awarded four of the HAI’s eight “Salute To Excellence” awards to be presented this year tonight at Heli-Expo, including Humanitarian Service, Helicopter Maintenance, Pilot of the Year, and Law Enforcement.
Overall, the heroic missions flown by the Coast Guard being honored include the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion, an emergency night landing on a cutter in Alaska, and maritime drug interdiction.
Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award: The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter 6605, Air Station New Orleans, La.—Lt. Cdr. Thomas G. Hickey, aircraft commander; Lt. Cdr. Craig Murray, copilot; flight mechanic/hoist operator and avionics electrical technician 2nd Class Scott Lloyd, and aviation survival technician chief petty officer Kurt Peterson (rescue swimmer).
This Eurocopter MH-65C was the first to arrive at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig after its explosion April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. They got the alarm at 10:10 p.m., were airborne 18 minutes later and arrived first on scene 130 miles away at 11 p.m. Climbing through 500 feet, still 115 miles away, they could see the fire with their NVGs. Hickey recalled the inherent danger. “We knew there were fuel bowsers on the Horizon, but we didn’t know if they had exploded or were going to explode.” The crew turned on the searchlights and dropped to 35 feet over the water to stay below the heat plume. They got within 100 feet of the Horizon and did one slow close loop around the rig looking for survivors, but found nothing. Then Peterson was lowered onto the supply vessel Bankston to triage the 115 survivors, and the most seriously injured were hoisted to safety. The last patient was hoisted off at 3 a.m., but the searching continued. Hickey and his crew landed back in New Orleans after flying for just over seven hours, refueling several times at a nearby platform.
Rolls-Royce Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award: Aviation maintenance technician 2nd Class Nicholas H. Baisden, U.S. Coast Guard, Air Station New Orleans. This award recognizes an individual who has distinguished himself or herself by longstanding excellence in the performance of helicopter maintenance or a single, significant and distinct contribution to helicopter maintenance.
Baisden receives the award for his exceptional leadership in guiding 72 mechanics assigned temporarily to Air Station New Orleans to support the Coast Guard’s aerial response to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. As the lead federal agency in charge, the USCGCoast Guard poured considerable air assets into the five-month long Deepwater Horizon response.
Pilot of the Year Award: Lt. Audie Andry, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska. This award honors “an outstanding single feat performed by a helicopter pilot during the year or extraordinary professionalism over a period of time.”
Air Station Kodiak’s territory spans more than 3.9 million square miles and it is expected to cover it with four Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawks, four smaller MH-65C Eurocopter “Dolphins” and five Lockheed-Martin HC-130 fixed-wing transports. Some of the air assets are forward-deployed in conjunction with the fishing seasons and their locations. Depending on the severity of the search and rescue mission, Jayhawks will launch with as little as one-quarter mile forward visibility and ceilings below 100 feet. Carrying up to 6,000 pounds of fuel, the Jayhawks can fly out 300 miles, remain on station for 20 minutes, and return at economy cruise power. Conditions are often less than optimal: Hhigh seas and very high winds.
Andry receives this year’s award for demonstrating exceptional airmanship and decisive action in landing his Jayhawk (with five other crewmembers aboard) safely aboard the USCG Coast Guard cutter Healy after the helicopter suffered a main-transmission input failure while in a 40-foot hover 100 feet from the ship at night.
MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award: The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter 6597, Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) Aviation Detachment 10-01—Lt. Cdr. Robert G. Workman, Capt. Joseph T. Baker, Lt. j.g. Matthew J. Van Ginkel, avionics electrical technician 3rd Class Kimberly N. Dechmerowski, aviation maintenance technician 1st Class Thomas J. Masell, avionics electrical technician 1st Class Joseph D. Paulson, aviation maintenance Ttechnician 2nd Class Brian M. Dugal and aviation maintenance technician 3rd Class Jacob S. Dickson. This award recognizes those who have contributed to the promotion and advancement of helicopters in support of law enforcement activities.
Deployed to the USCG Coast Guard Cutter Sherman as part of Joint Interagency Task Force South in the waters off the southeastern U.S., this crew interdicted six vessels engaged in illegal drug smuggling and accomplished “the unprecedented feat of stopping four vessels in one mission,” according to the nominator.
HITRON squadrons forward deploy armed helicopters to high-threat drug trafficking areas. They intercept suspect vessel and, if needed, use appropriate interdiction force. They also direct USCGCoast Guard cutters and other craft to the target areas.
AgustaWestland Safety Award: Keith Johnson. This award acknowledges outstanding contributions in the promotion of safety and safety awareness throughout the international helicopter community. Throughout his career and since his retirement from the Los Angeles Police Department, Johnson has volunteered hundreds of hours to support helicopter safety initiatives through the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, the HAI Safety Committee, and the International Helicopter Safety Team, where he chairs the Safety Management System working group.
W. A. (Dub) Blessing Certified Flight Instructor of the Year Award: Lawrence “Larry” Graves, chief pilot for AgustaWestland in Philadelphia. This award recognizes superlative contributions by a helicopter flight instructor in upholding high standards of excellence.
Graves is honored for providing, in the words of one nominator, “the highest standard of professional instruction to international and U.S. helicopter pilots” for more than 30 years.
Bell Helicopter Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael C. “Mike” Hurst. This award salutes excellence in management and leadership and is presented to an individual who is recognized for long and significant service to the international helicopter community. Hurst has been working in the helicopter industry for 40 years and is currently chief pilot for PHI.