NORTH BEND — “A good afternoon can turn threatening quickly,” said Jordan Long, a Lt. Junior Grade with the U.S. Coast Guard, discussing the South Coast.
Stationed out of Sector North Bend, Long looked back on a mission that has stood out to him during his three years in the area. He recalled responding to the Umpqua River where a family had gone out on a recreational vessel, which had capsized.
“Everyone who serves here has respect for the Umpqua River,” Long said. “We know how dangerous the area can become ….”
Though some were saved, not all survived.
“It shows how wild and dangerous the Oregon coastline can (be),” he said.
At Sector North Bend, also known as the Air Station, former Commander Michael Baird said “our primary mission is search and rescue.” Though the sector also conducts law enforcement, protects living marine resources and has environmental and pollution response, search and rescue has become a much-needed service in the area.
“Given the rugged terrain, a lot of times the Air Station is the only asset that is hoist capable and can respond to people in need on the shoreline …,” Long said.
Since transferring from the U.S. Army to the Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot, Long has learned about Oregon’s complex offshore cases as well as what is referred to as Inland Rescue Cases. Inland Rescue Cases, which are often inland rescues, pose unique missions that require the same level and proficiency of training needed in offshore calls.
Long said often times people don’t realize the Coast Guard conducts inland rescues.
“The last couple months with everyone coming out of quarantine and going out hiking, it has been evident how needed (our) services are here because there isn’t any other agency capable to rescue people depending where they get stranded,” Long said. “We can go in and pick them up and save them that way.”
Baird pointed out that the Air Station is more than just that though. As Sector North Bend, it also serves as command center and support personnel.
“… It’s not just the Air Station, but all the units for the 220 miles of the Oregon coastline,” Baird said.
Whenever members of Sector North Bend respond to a call, members from these other stations may also respond, along with local agencies.
“Very rarely is it just us responding,” Baird said.
For Baird, who has been in the service for 17 years, he has learned that “no case is exactly what you train for,” even in the aircraft.
“There’s a lot of group coordination and risk analysis,” he said. “… It can be very exciting. No overturned vessel is the exact same. Sometimes people are in the water, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes we can make a difference and sometimes we can’t.”
For the missions where not everyone is saved, like the one Long remembered on the Umpqua River, Baird pointed to the importance of training for these different scenarios.
“You get people used to adapting and making risk assessments for on-scene judgement calls,” he said.
Though, not every mission ends tragically or bittersweet. Baird was first stationed at Sector North Bend in 2009 to 2013 right out of flight school. One of the missions that stood out to him in his experience was a Search and Rescue mission for a fishing vessel out of Yaquina Bay on the North Jetty.
“There were communication issues with the small boats,” he remembered. “We were asked to establish comms with (the 70-foot crab vessel). We got on scene and saw it was on the jetty, on its side, taking on 15-foot breakers.”
The small boats weren’t able to get close enough to help, so his helicopter deployed a rescue swimmer.
“We saved four people and a giant golden lab,” Baird said.
When they returned the next morning, half the boat had broken up and washed out.
“It makes you feel great that you got there in time and helped people,” he said.