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Experience a chopper rescue

A new video helps prepare boaters for an emergency airlift

A new video helps prepare boaters for an emergency airlift

A Coast Guard helicopter hovers over a sailboat as the sailors prepare to abandon ship. Prop wash kicks up high winds and waves as a rescue swimmer jumps into the water.

Fortunately, this wasn’t a real distress call, but a simulated rescue for a new informative video, “Helicopter Preparation Rescue Guide.” The 16-minute narrated video, funded by the Bonnell Cove Foundation and the Cruising Club of America, is intended to prepare captains and crews for helicopter rescue.

“It’s not the kind of thing you plug in for Saturday night entertainment, but it’s really useful information,” says Bonnell Cove Foundation president Jim Harvie.

Harvie says the foundation and CCA wanted to educate boaters about abandoning ship as part of safety at sea seminars. He hopes the video will help alleviate some of the trauma of a rescue by preparing boaters ahead of time.

“It’s very important [boaters] know how to prepare their boats so they don’t jeopardize the helicopter,” says Ron Trossbach, a retired Naval officer, CCA member and organizer of the Suddenly Alone seminars.

The video was produced by Tom Castelli and narrated by Bob Hite — both of Florida-based Kinship Productions — and covers the dos and don’ts of helicopter rescue. It includes instructions on contacting the Coast Guard, maintaining communications, preparing for the helicopter’s arrival, using hand signals to communicate with the helicopter crew, special after-dark requirements and patient preparation when there is need for medical assistance. The video is perhaps the first to be done from the perspective of the rescued, rather than the rescuers, says Castelli, a New Jersey native and longtime sailor.

“It was an interesting project,” he says. “We were surprised no one had ever done it before.”

While the video runs only 16 minutes, the project took nearly a year to come to fruition. There was considerable preparation to be done, including coordination with the Coast Guard, Castelli says. Castelli began working on the project in July 2003. Filming was finished this March, and the final copy, after editing, was completed in April. Castelli says the budget was extremely tight. “But it was for a good cause,” he says.

Trossbach says the video cost around $10,000 to produce, significantly less than most videos of its caliber. He credits volunteers for helping keep costs down. It was filmed in the Gulf of Mexico, using an aft cockpit sloop loaned by a member of the Clearwater (Fla.) Yacht Club. Hite filmed footage from a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater, and Castelli filmed from both the sailboat and a Coast Guard cutter on standby. Castelli says he was amazed at the power of the helicopter’s prop wash, which kicked up 90-mph winds.

“It was quite an experience. I’ve never been caught in prop wash before. That’s something boaters should know,” he says.

They filmed rescues using a litter (stretcher), basket and sling. The video also explains how to rescue the rescuers, in the event something goes amiss during the attempt, Castelli says. “That alone was worth it,” he says.

The film crew also took two trips to Coast Guard Naval Air Station Clearwater to videotape and explain the equipment and safety gear on helicopters so that boaters know what to expect when it arrives.

Two dozen copies of the video were sent to the Cruising Club of America for use in seminars. The “Helicopter Rescue Guide” video to prepare captains and crew for helicopter rescue is available at video costs $19.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. Castelli says 15 percent of the proceeds will go to the Bonnell Cove Foundation.