A Coast Guard helicopter crew from Air Station Traverse City, Mich., showed their resourcefulness last Saturday when they used the rotor wash from their aircraft to help clear a path for two fishermen who became surrounded by ice on Lake Michigan.
“This was definitely the most out-of-the-box case I’ve been involved with,” said Lt. Rocco Franco, one of the pilots in the aircrew. “It’s not very often that our helicopter is used as an ice breaker.”
A boat crew from Station Grand Haven had responded, traveling about 15 miles, but the ice hindered them about 6 miles from the fishermen and they could not maneuver any closer.
The aircrew arrived overhead about 11 a.m. to find the fishermen and their 16-foot boat surrounded by a vast ice shelf consisting of large chunks of ice, some 20 to 30 feet wide and 2 feet thick. The fishermen had no way to get back to shore.
The aircrew decided not to hoist the fishermen into the helicopter because its rotor wash might capsize the small boat. They lowered a radio to the fishermen to communicate a different plan.
It was then that the aircrew saw the ice begin to part and break up because of the rotor wash. They continued to hover between 50 and 80 feet above the ice for about 45 minutes, maneuvering so the rotor wash could create an open path for the fishermen to head to shore.
Once ashore, the fishermen were met by Chief Petty Officer Eli Paquette, the officer in charge of Station Holland. By this time the men and their small fishing boat had been taken almost 2 miles north of the spot where they began to fish.
Both men were in good condition and did not need medical attention, according to the Coast Guard.