Rescue swimmer honored for service

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Each year since 1982, the Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS)celebrates the efforts of U.S. Coast Guard rescue personnel involved in harrowing rescues. The Gold Medal was this year awarded to Laurence D. Nettles, an Aviation Survival Technician Third Class.

In lay terms, Nettles is known as a rescue swimmer, one of the Coast Guard’s team of powerful swimmers whose job is to leap from helicopters during rescues and assist the mariners of sinking vessels into an airlift basket.

On June 30, 2003, during Tropical Storm Bill, Nettles dropped into the Gulf of Mexico off Timbalier Island, La., where four fishermen were losing a battle with the storm. The stern deck of their 60-foot vessel was already awash. After dropping from the helicopter, Nettles was repeatedly submerged in breaking waves during the rescue, at one point being buried by a 25-foot breaking wave. He reportedly disappeared from view for 15 seconds while assisting one of the fishermen.

“The wave washed Petty Officer Nettles and the survivor approximately 50 feet down swell,” said Capt. John Chomeau, president of AFRAS. “Amazingly, when he emerged from the wave, Nettles still had a grip on the survivor.”

“Petty Officer Nettles’ intrepidness, stamina and determination in treacherous conditions were instrumental in the saving of four lives,” the award said, “and were in keeping in the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard and those who risk their own lives to save others at sea.”

By Ocean Navigator