NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - For thousands of people each year, spotting one of the U.S. Coast Guard's MH-65 Dauphin helicopters can mean the difference between life and death.
The Coast Guard gave FOX 5 NY an inside look at how those helicopter rescues go down. We met the flight crew at the Wall Street Heliport. The chopper had flown in from Air Station Atlantic City.
The standard set up is two pilots up front and a flight mechanic and rescue swimmer in the back. Simply put, their job is to go whenever and wherever they're needed to search and to rescue.
When the original distress call comes in, this team has only 30 minutes to learn everything they can about the situation and get airborne.
While the crew gets ready for the demonstration, we met up with a 45-foot Coast Guard response boat in the North Cove Marina. From there, we went past the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazzano Bridge and settled in Gravesend Bay.
We then met another Coast Guard boat as the rescue demonstration got underway. The chopper lined up with the boat, lowered a basket, and simulated a rescue.
Even in practice, a Coast Guard rescue feels high stakes: the helicopter and boat sync up, the chopper blades churn the up water, and of course, make that connection. On the boat, a yellow grounding stick is the first line of defense because the helicopter generates a static charge.
To say these guys are elite doesn't quite capture it. At the end of his aviation survival technician training, Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Baird was one of only five that graduated out of a class that started with 25.
He dropped in the water, released the hook, and swam over to the mock victim. And with water temperatures that can sometimes dip into the upper 30s in the winter, the bright orange dry suit is the only keeping him safe.
Every situation is different and dangerous. The crew trains again and again and work to keep each other and the people who need them safe in the face of unknown dangers every day.