April 4, 2016 (by SSgt. Chris Hubenthal) - “Who wouldn’t?” Hoag said. “A group of people who saved your life, three lives… to send a post card or a ‘thank you’ note? No, I don’t think so.”
Jonathon Hoag, commercial fisherman and search and rescue (SAR) survivor, poses for a group photo with his USCG and U.S. Navy rescuers April 1, 2016, at Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii. Hoag was able to speak with the joint SAR crew who extracted himself and two of his crew members to safety after his vessel capsized 161 miles southwest of Kona, Hawaii on March 11. [USAF photo by SSgt. Christopher Hubenthal]
After shaking hands and personally thanking those involved in his extraction, Hoag took some time to talk about the rescue.
“We were just doing our normal thing, we were fishing,” Hoag said. “It was rougher than usual; we didn’t really fish in the morning because it was so rough. We have a big sea anchor that we use so we just basically rode it out for a while. Later on in the late afternoon it ended up lying down a little bit and we got up to where we fish. The fishing was decent so we fished until just before dark.”
On March 11, watchstanders at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu received an emergency distress call that would evolve into the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy conducting a successful SAR mission to transport Hoag and his two crew members to safety.
Hoag and his team were fishing aboard the 41-foot fishing vessel, Vicious Cycle, approximately 161 miles southwest of Kona, Hawaii when they noticed something wasn’t right.
“Right before dark the sun went down and we were getting ready to ice the fish,” Hoag said. “We got back up on the sea anchor and I was filling out paperwork and I happened to look back and I noticed that there was more water on deck than there usually is.”
Hoag and his crew discovered that the engine hatch on the starboard side was filled with water. Hoag said that he knew they were in trouble and after making a mayday call he began preparing the life raft and life preservers.
“The waves started coming over, the boat went down, and we went swimming,” Hoag said. “I said a prayer jumped in and swam to the canister which was a life raft. It wasn’t deployed; it was still in the canister. When I got to the canister there was nobody with me. I knew one of them had a hard time swimming, and the other one, to be honest, I didn’t know where he ended up.”
The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy were alerted of the distress call and an HC-130 Hercules from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and an MH-60R helicopter from Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Thirty-Seven made their way to the scene.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Michael Koehler, a C-130 pilot at Air Station Barbers Point, explained how his unit got the call.
“We flew down there, we had a relative position, and thankfully we had night vision goggles with us so when we descended down on scene we already saw lights on the water. When we got, what I’m guessing was right overhead, they started flashing a light at us. We marked our position, turned outbound, and when we came back inbound they shot off a flare.”
Hoag and his crew were a far enough distance from shore, just outside of the Coast Guard safe range, so the Navy ended up coordinating with the Coast Guard to extract the three from danger.
“That night, we got the call, and typically we don’t perform any rescues out here,” said U.S. Naval Aircrewman-Tactical Helicopter 2nd Class Ryan Hodges, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron thirty-seven. “The Coast Guard or the fire department usually handles any close to shore rescues so we knew that we were going to at least help in some sort of a search but not certain until we found out how far off shore they really were.”
After waiting in the life raft for more than five hours, Hoag said he remembers when he was rescued and hoisted up to safety.
“They got really close with the flares, it was just like day time and at that time I could hear a ‘thump, thump, thump,’ of the Navy helicopter,” Hoag said. “We were glad to see the helicopter show up, get above us, and the rescue swimmer come down.”
“From that point, my hoist operator lowered me down the hoist,” Hodges said. “Unattached, I swam to the raft and pulled one person out of the raft at a time. I chose to use the basket, so one at a time, I sent one up the basket, brought the next on the raft, and put him in a basket.”
Hodges then hooked himself and the third fisherman to the hoist to ascend back to the helicopter together.
“It was a pretty quick evolution but considering the sea state and the winds we knew we only had about a half an hour on the scene so there was definitely a little bit of pressure to make sure we got those guys out of the water in that time limit,” Hodges said. “They had already been in the water for five and a half hours so to not let them stay in the water another eight hours until the Coast Guard Cutter was able to get out there was instrumental.”
Hodges said that for him, there was no other way to thank the team other than in person.
“I’m going to shake everybody’s hand and for me especially it’s going to mean a lot to know that I got to meet everybody who was involved in saving three guys lives,” Hoag said. “Three guys are going home, two of them are already at home in Indonesia with their kids, and thank God tonight I get to go home and see both of mine.”