Commentary | Aug. 27, 2020

Aerial Heroism: The 2020 Aviation Award Winners

By Shana Brouder, MyCG Writer

The Coast Guard is widlely known for its daring and heroic rescues at sea. Some of those most daring rescues occur from the Service’s premier aviation search and rescue (SAR) capabilities.
This year, the Sector Humboldt Bay crew of Coast Guard rescue helicopter 6561 risked their lives to rescue two critically injured firefighters from a clearing, while flames engulfed nearby trees. Without the aircrew’s creativity and tenacity, it is likely these two men would not have survived the fire.

Every year aircrews, such as Coast Guard rescue helicopter 6561, are recognized for their heroism through the Captain Frank A. Erickson and Commander Elmer F. Stone awards. The 2020 aircrew awards were announced July 6.

“These awards highlight our crews [who] selflessly devote so much time and effort to the safety and security of our nation,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Bryan Salazar, Aircrew Program Manager, Office of Aviation Forces (CG-711). “Our pilots and aircrew willingly operate in dangerous environments and sacrifice time with their loved ones for the welfare of others. This work is demanding and often thankless, but these awards are a way to say thank you to our crews for the outstanding work they do every day. We must show them that their diligence is noticed and appreciated.”

The Captain Frank A. Erickson Award and the Commander Elmer F. Stone Aviation Award recognize helicopter (rotary-wing) and airplane (fixed-wing) crews respectively who have gone above and beyond in their work as a Coast Guard member, demonstrating exceptional aerial skill while engaging in SAR operations.

While these are not the only heroic actions performed by our pilots and aircrew over the last year, the winners of the Captain Frank A. Erickson Award and the Commander Elmer F. Stone Aviation Award both used their training and their courage to save lives despite incredible challenges on land and at sea.

“This year’s winners exemplify the devotion to duty seen across Coast Guard aviation on a daily basis,” Salazar said.

Frank A. Erickson award winners

The Sector Humboldt Bay crew of Coast Guard rescue helicopter 6561 – Lt. Cmdr. Derek Schramel, Lt.j.g. Adam Ownbey, Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook – won the 2019 Frank A. Erickson Award. The aircrew used creative solutions to rescue two critically injured firefighters from a heavily forested area, trapped within an active wildfire.

On the evening of Sept. 6, 2019, the U.S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard’s help to medevac two firefighters who had sustained injuries while battling the Middle Fire in Northern California. During the aerial rescue efforts, the aircrews successfully hoisted the firefighters from a heavily wooded area while also battling updrafts and smoke from the fire and while wearing night vision devices. After multiple attempts to rescue the firefighters, both men were brought into the smoke-filled Coast Guard helicopter and transported to safety. Though Coast Guard aircrews train for maritime rescues, they were able to use that training and adapt it to rescue two people in a completely different environment. Their heroism and creativity under pressure demonstrates their dedication and devotion to duty.

Commander Elmer F. Stone award winners

The Air Station Cape Cod fixed-wing crew of Coast Guard rescue plane 2313 - Lt.Cmdr. Christopher McKay, Lt. j.g. Banning S. Lobmeyer, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse R. Oudman,Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon E. Sabala, Petty Officer 3rd Class Connor D. Shannon, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicolas G. Stewart – won the 2019 Commander Elmer F. Stone Award. This aircrew responded to an July 24, 2019 emergency radio beacon from the sailing vessel Ishmael, which was flooded up to its cabin with heavy weather approaching. After three failed attempts trying to rescue the master from the Ishmael, the aircrew was able to deploy a radio can, a survival kit (with essentials like a survival raft, first-aid kit, water packs, flare, whistle, etc.), and a Self-Locating Datum Marker Buoy. These items proved valuable in the continuing rescue and the master’s ability to coordinate with a Good Samaritan to safely disembark his vessel.

Congratulations to the winners and to all nominated for these prestigious awards.