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ABACO ASSISTS IN RESCUE
The rescue of 28 crew members from the sinking Merchant Patriot off the coast of Abaco on 30th December highlighted the efficiency of the US Coast Guard and the US Air Force in effecting such rescue missions.
Not fully acknowledged in international reports on the incident was the extraordinary outpouring of support from various voluntary agencies of Abaco, local government officials, businesses and private individuals.
Central to the rescue support effort was Trauma One, a volunteer ambulance service in Marsh Harbour headed by Dan Wiltfang. He first heard of the ship's distress on VHF 16 as the US Coast Guard called the ailing vessel. He immediately contacted Jeff Gale of the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association on Hope Town who went to the long range VHF.
Within minutes Dan Wiltfang was contacted by the Marsh Harbour Police Department who informed him that 28 or 29 souls were aboard the vessel and that the US Coast Guard would be attempting to rescue them. The Marsh Harbour Community Clinic would be the disaster relief/evacuation centre. Police officers instructed Mr Wiltfang to take both Trauma One units to the Marsh Harbour International Airport and co-ordinate the response with them. By 10 am both police personnel and ambulances were in place at the airport.
Members of the Marsh Harbour and Hope Town Volunteer Fire Brigades, BASRA and Arawak Agency personnel provided updated information about the progress of the rescue effort and the ETA of the rescue helicopters. Nurse Russell of the Community Clinic stood by with the Trauma One teams.
The first of five rescue helicopters landed at 12.10 with eight evacuees. They were taken by Trauma One to the Community Clinic where medical officers from Sandy Point in the south to Coopers Town in the north, both government and private, had arrived to assist as necessary.
None of the rescued seamen had serious injuries but had been exposed to the open sea cold and were still dripping wet. By 12.30 Ms Terry Curry and other staff members of the Abaco Beach Hotel & Resort arrived with towels and blankets. The seamen all had hot showers and throughout the afternoon people arrived with clothing for them.
Helicopters landed every 30 to 45 minutes until all 28 officers and crew had been removed from the stricken vessel. The last were delivered to the Clinic by Trauma One at 4.30 in the afternoon. They were later welcomed at Abaco Towns, a condominium resort, where they stayed until further arrangements had been made for them by the boatÕs owners.
The whole episode reflected well on the Abaco community which came together to give both professional service and humanitarian assistance at a moment's notice.
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