You have to go out…
February 1, 2020
You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back. This is the unofficial motto of the US Coast Guard aviation survival technician – the rescue swimmer. Much of what he does happens in the dark of night in remote locations and goes unnoticed by those of us not directly affected by his actions.
We are taking a moment to recognize one particular Coastie, Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Gantt, who was recently awarded America’s oldest military aviation award, the Distinguished Flying Cross, for personally rescuing 59 people in hurricane Harvey in 2017.
The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight, in a manner that is distinctive and not routine. This perfectly describes Petty Officer Gantt’s actions in Houston on Aug. 25, 2017 on his first-ever search and rescue mission.
The citation says Petty Officer Gantt was the Coast Guard’s first rescue swimmer deployed in response to flooding in Houston, launching at 0230, well below operational weather minimums, into an unfamiliar operating area at night with winds gusting more than 80 knots, visibility below 50 feet and torrential rain to respond to a critically-ill pregnant woman trapped in her attic by rising waters.
Battling severe turbulence while performing the hoists from 150 feet in the air, Petty Officer Gantt was repeatedly deployed through a small opening, between active power lines, to search for and free the ill woman.
Displaying remarkable physical stamina and judgment for his first-ever Coast Guard search and rescue case, Gantt evaluated, prioritized, and swam the woman and her family one by one through the flood waters to be hoisted through power lines and 125-foot trees.
Fox10 News in Mobile Alabama interviewed their hometown hero:
“We were just responding to call after call... We get one call of a pregnant woman stuck in an attic with the water level rising,” Gantt said.
He sent the pregnant woman in a basket up to the helicopter, but was surprised she also had a baby with her.
“This baby was a literal baby. She was very small, would not fit into a rescue device so in a perfect world with the helicopter not being fuel critical... I would have sent the hook back up and had them send a basket down for the baby to ride up in, but since we were fuel critical I had to make a quick decision and decided to throw the rescue device over my shoulder, not use it and keep it out of the way and hold the baby with both my arms…and just give the look up to the helicopter say ‘I’m ready to go.’”
In a subsequent hoist, Petty Officer Gantt dove from the roof of a house into the swift-moving water to grab an infant who had been swept away from his father. Recognizing the dire situation, the crew instantly performed a high-risk physical grip recovery; descending rapidly below the power lines and trees from 150 feet to 25 feet to minimize the risk to the infant.
Petty Officer Gantt then located additional survivors signaling from a home being quickly engulfed by the flood waters. Without the use of a chainsaw (emphasis ours), he tore through the roof to extract and hoist the seven people to safety before water overtook the home.
In the same ceremony that awarded Gantt, pilots Lt. John Briggs and Cmdr. Scott Sanborn also received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and flight mechanic Petty Officer 1st Class James Yockey received the Air Medal.
The citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross says Petty Officer Gantt’s aeronautical skill and heroism were instrumental in the rescue of 59 people. His courage, judgment, and devotion to duty in the face of hazardous flying conditions are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org