VIDEO: 'I can't thank you enough'

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The Coast Guard says it has a hand in saving thousands of lives each year. Some of those it rescues are more grateful — or at least more demonstrative in showing their gratitude — than most.

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Count 29-year-old Jordan Hanssen — and his mother — in the latter category.

Hanssen and his crew of three were attempting to row a 29-foot boat from Dakar, Senegal, to Miami.

They were on the 73rd day of an estimated 100-day voyage that ended abruptly when confused seas swamped their vessel and the crew was forced to board its emergency life raft about 380 nautical miles north of Puerto Rico. Hanssen said the accident was a result of a cabin hatch left open while the crew was in the middle of a shift change.

Click play to watch an on-board assessment of how the row was going.

The four American and Canadian rowers were equipped with ACR ResQLink personal locator beacons, which they promptly activated. Coast Guard Sector San Juan received their 406-MHz distress message at 6:30 a.m. April 6 and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft launched from Air Station Miami and a C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., to search for the boat and possible survivors.

The HC-144 arrived about 11 a.m. and found all four men safely on board the life raft. The aircrew dropped food rations for the boaters and a VHF marine radio to establish communications.

The C-130 arrived later, and its crew dropped a second load of rations and a VHF marine radio, which the boaters used to confirm that all of them were safe. The C-130 crew maintained watch over the boaters until an AMVER participating vessel, the 800-foot Panamanian flag automobile carrier Heijin, safely recovered all four survivors from the life raft shortly before sunset and brought them to Puerto Rico.

Click here for an account of the rescue operation.

The Coast Guard praised the rowing crew — a professional team that included an Olympic gold-medal winner — for being prepared and taking the right actions to make for a swift and safe rescue, and the praise was reciprocated.

Click play for a guided tour of the cramped quarters where the four crew lived.

Hanssen, the skipper, who is from Seattle, decided that more was in order. About a month later he set off on a “thank you” tour of Florida.

He started with a visit to Air Station Miami on May 1, followed by a visit to thank the Fort Lauderdale-based manufacturer of the rescue beacons, ACR Electronics, which the crew used to notify the Coast Guard of their distress. Concluding his tour, Hanssen dropped by Air Station Clearwater to present a thank-you plaque to the crew who assisted in his rescue.

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There were interviews by newspapers and TV stations in which Hanssen and his crew thanked rescuers and explained their ordeal. And, as a bonus, Hanssen’s mother sent her son’s Coast Guard rescuers a box of homemade cookies, along with her own letter of thanks.

Hanssen has since vowed he will attempt another trans-Atlantic crossing (although at least one crewmember wants no part of it) and has salvaged his boat, which contained hundreds of hours of on-board footage. He plans to use film to make a documentary about his adventure, which will serve as a companion to the book he wrote on ocean rowing prior to making the recent attempt.

— Rich Armstrong

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