MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard honored the sacrifice of four crewmembers lost at sea in 1997 off the coast of Cape Mendocino, with a memorial service at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay, Friday.
Twenty two years ago on June 8, 1997, four Coast Guard helicopter crewmembers were lost in an effort to rescue mariners in distress approximately 60 miles west of Cape Mendocino.
Crewing the Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay MH-65 Dolphin helicopter (CG-6549) were: Lt. Jeffrey F. Crane, 35, of Marshfield, Massachusetts (CG Aviator #3188); Lt. j.g. Charles W. Thigpen IV, 26, of Riverside, California (CG Aviator #3310); Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard L. Hughes, 33, of Black Canyon, Arizona; Petty Officer 3rd Class James G. Caines, 26, of Hinesville, Georgia (CG Rescue Swimmer #425).
The Canadian sailing vessel, Ezara-2, contacted the Coast Guard reporting they had five people aboard and their vessel had become disabled in 25-foot seas and 45-knot winds.
Two Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay MH-65 Dolphin helicopters, a Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento HC-130 Hercules aircraft and the Coast Guard Cutter Edisto responded to the call.
The helicopters provided the Ezara-2 with radios and a sea anchor, which stabilized the sailing vessel. Some of the Ezara-2's crewmembers were injured and the boat was damaged due to heavy seas, forcing the Ezara-2 crew to abandon ship into a life raft.
The CG-6549 crew began an instrument-guided approach to the last known position of the life raft when the HC-130 lost sight and communications with the helicopter in the darkness and heavy winds.
The Edisto arrived on scene through heavy seas and recovered all of the Ezara-2's survivors from the life raft and began searching for CG-6549.
Aircraft crews from Coast Guard Air Stations North Bend and Astoria, Navy P-3 patrol planes and Air Force HC-130 rescue airplanes joined in the search. On the water, Coast Guard Cutters Sapelo, Buttonwood, Steadfast and Boutwell aided in the search.
Scattered debris from the helicopter was located in the area and the main fuselage was recovered on the ocean floor over a month later. The crew of the 6549 was lost at sea.
“The crew of Coast Guard 6549 made the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to save the lives of those in peril on the sea," said Cmdr. Brendan Hilleary, the Sector Humboldt Bay response chief. "Let us always remember these men that their sacrifice may stand as an inspiration to all of us who continue to stand the watch.”