The Depot

Coast Guardsmen Earn Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Medals

On Aug. 6, 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard presented helicopter crew members from Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for a daring rescue in 2019 in California.

The pilot of the MH-65 Dolphin, Cmdr. Derek Schramel and aviation survival technician (rescue swimmer) Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Their fellow crewmates, co-pilot Lt. j.g. Adam Ownbey and aviation maintenance technician Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, received Air Medals. 

The crews rescued two injured firefighters who were unable to evacuate from a burning mountain during a wildfire in the early morning of Sept. 6, 2019. The U.S. Forest Service requested Coast Guard assistance in rescuing the firefighters who had been injured by falling rocks in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area in Northern California.

The crew flew over the area in the early morning darkness as fires raged below them. They conducted hoist operations and a rescue swimmer was lowered and recovered the injured firefighters who had been struck by a “car-battery-sized rock” and had sustained a broken femur, head lacerations and neck injuries. The injured were flown to the Weaverville airport and transferred to ambulances.

The injured firefighters were extracted just 10 yards from the fire line in a clearing that fire crews had cut to enable the extraction. The victims were hoisted from more than 200 feet above the scorched earth.

A video of the rescue shows the rescue with fires burning under the crew. The audio is of flight mechanic and pilots coordinating aircraft movements; discussing hazards such as nearby trees, fire and smoke: and tracking progress of the rescue swimmer deployed to the ground to hoist the injured.

“It was just the best example of what we aspire to in naval aviation, in Coast Guard rescuing and in lifesaving operations,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. "Devotion to duty is embodied in this rescue by the aircrew’s decisions.”

These military medals aren't easy to earn. The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation's highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.

The Air Medal is a prestigious award that is presented to an armed forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight.

According to the award citation, "the flight crew's outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard."