Rescue crew honored for saving 3 fishermen

Posted: Tuesday, May 23, 2000

A Coast Guard helicopter crew will receive the nation's highest peacetime flying honor for plucking three fishermen from the Gulf of Alaska during a storm last November.

The four flyers rescued Haines fishermen Lee and Song Nash and Jesse McGraw after the longliner Becca Dawn sank on the night of Nov. 13. They will receive the Distinguished Flying Cross at a ceremony in Sitka later this summer.

Pilot Lt. Robert Yerex, co-pilot Lt. James O'Keefe, and Petty Officers third class Christian Blanco and Noel Hutton flew in 40 to 60 knot winds and pulled McGraw and the Nashes out of 35- to 40-foot seas in darkness and swirling snow. A fourth fishermen, Olin Nash, was lost in the sinking.

``The case obviously required extraordinary airmanship and tenacity,'' Coast Guard Adm. Tom Barrett told the Chilkat Valley News. ``It would have been easy to turn around. The crew was nauseous, the wind was gusting to 60 knots, and it was pitch black. They got there quick and they stayed.''

It's the second time in the past five years a crew from the Sitka Coast Guard Air Station has received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Flyers involved in the 1998 Gulf of Alaska rescue of the crew of the longliner LaConte in worse weather conditions also won the award.

``The two cases were very similar, but the difference is that on the LaConte case there were three aircraft involved. In this case, they were the first crew on the scene and they completed the rescue.''

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