MCKINLEYVILLE (CBS SF) — Two members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew that rescued two injured firefighters at the height of the raging Middle Fire last year will be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the nation’s highest aviation honor, military officials announced Tuesday.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Bryan Penoyer will make the presention to Lt. Cmdr. Derek Schramel, the aircraft commander, and Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis, a rescue swimmer, at Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay on Thursday.
Two other members of the flight crew — Lt. j.g. Adam Ownbey, the co-pilot, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, the flight mechanic — will be awarded Air Medals.
The crew are being presented with these awards after successfully completing the rescue of two injured firefighters who were unable to evacuate a mountainside being engulfed in flames during the Middle Fire.
The U. S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard’s assistance with the medevac of two firefighters who had sustained injuries while battling the Middle Fire on Sept. 6, 2019.
The firefighters were surrounded by steep, wooded terrain with the advancing wildfire threatening to burn over their position. The aircrew prepared for a high-risk rescue in a rugged mountain valley with limited visibility due to widespread smoke and minimal room for error.
Battling bouts of vertigo, fire updrafts and night vision device blinding, the crew established a prolonged precision hover above a narrow 20-by-30 foot hoisting area, surrounded by towering trees with wildfire flanking the zone on three sides.
The firefighters were hoisted despite the crew having to overcome fatigue and choking smoke that filled the helicopter cabin. The firefighters were successfully rescued and delivered to advanced medical care, saving their lives.