August 18, 2011 — There are some days that are just more memorable than others. Mark Heussner would certainly agree to that.
The Coast Guard helicopter pilot became a hero after he rescued five Alaskan fishermen who were stranded on their beached fishing boat last February. Heussner is also a former Young Eagle, fueling his interest in aviation with flights in 1996 and 1998 in a Zenith and Cessna 172 Skyhawk, respectively.
Graduating in 2003 from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Heussner told The Daily Herald the rescue was the most intense of his life.
Heussner is part of a MH-Jayhawk helicopter rescue crew based on Kodiak Island in southern Alaska. In the early morning hours of February 11, he woke up to a report of a mayday call from a 68-foot fishing vessel, which had run aground about 36 miles from their base. By 1:17 a.m., they were en route.
Flying as the co-pilot with three other Coast Guardsmen aboard, Heussner found the Midnite Sun in a difficult spot with five fishermen onboard already in their survival suits. The vessel had been set onto the rocks and driven ashore by the waves and the winds, which were blowing toward a cliff at about 50 or 60 knots. It created a challenge, to say the least.
“The pilot said that was the hardest rescue case that he had done up in Alaska,” Heussner said. “The boat was getting pounded by the surf, rocking back and forth.”
Heussner and the other pilot, a 15-year veteran, steadied the rescue helicopter about 50 feet from a cliff in whipping winds as it took about 20 minutes to pull the fishermen, one by one, to safety using a rescue basket. All were onboard the helicopter by 1:38 a.m.
“The crewmembers were in good spirits after they were off their boat,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Mike Wallace in the Spring 2011 edition of Alaska Bear. “We were all laughing and joking on the trip back to the air station. They realized how bad it could have been and all were fairly happy to be alive.”
A Coast Guard crew, including former Young Eagle Lt. Mark Heussner, conducts an overflight assessment of the grounded 68-foot fishing vessel Midnite Sun in a MH-Jayhawk helicopter. The boat’s crew was safely rescued from the vessel at 1:38 a.m. on February 11, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally
Lt. Mark Heussner, left, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Wallace describe their participation in the rescue of five stranded fishermen in February. Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard