Coast Guard rescue swimmer Abram Heller wasn’t the only man honored by the Association for Rescue at Sea at its awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The organization also paid tribute to Coast Guard Auxiliarists R. Jeffrey Brooks, Edward W. Parish, William M. Shepard, Robert O. Wells and William E. Winfrey. The five were awarded the AFRAS silver medal for saving two swimmers in Florida.
On May 25, 2008, the men were on a routine training mission just south of Laguna Beach, Fla., in a 25-foot center console when they were alerted to a swimmer in distress. The current had been running strong that day, and this was one of many such incidents reported along a 5-mile stretch of shoreline.
After hours of unsuccessful searching, the men and a Coast Guard utility vessel expanded their search area by several hundred yards. At sunset, a Panama City Beach Patrol deputy flashed a spotlight at the center console, and Shepard steered toward the 4-foot breaking surf. They found a man and woman clinging to a small float board.
Wells threw a line to the couple, and the team backed the vessel out of the surf, towing the survivors. The Auxiliarists were able to pull the man and the woman safely on board. One was exhibiting signs of shock, so the crew covered both of them with blankets and gave them warm water. They were taken to Lighthouse Marina in Grand Lagoon, where they were reunited with their families.
The swimmer who was the subject of the initial alert drowned.
AFRAS gave its Amver Award to the captain and crew of the M/V Parthenon for the rescue Sept. 28, 2008, of four Swedish sailors from the sailboat Sun Chaser 84 miles west of Cabo Sao Vicente, Portugal. Amver is the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System sponsored by the Coast Guard. It is a computer-based, voluntary global ship reporting system that arranges assistance for people in distress at sea. The Parthenon, an 800-foot tanker managed by the Tsakos Group of Athens, Greece, has been an Amver participant since 2003.
For information, visit www.amver.com.
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This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.