‘Very brave people’: Five Quileute fishermen first to rescue stricken copter crew
By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
LAPUSH — When a Coast Guard helicopter carrying four crew members slammed into the water near the mouth of the Quillayute River on Wednesday, five Quileute fishermen were first on the scene.
The fishermen — Levi Black, Jim Williams, Mark Williams, Charles Sampson and Darryl Penn — jumped into two skiffs and headed straight for the helicopter as soon as they heard the aircraft go down.
They pulled two men who showed few to no vital signs out of the water.
At shore, tribal members performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation while waiting for medics to arrive.
“They are some very brave people,” said Tribal Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer.
For Penn, who is the Quileute Marina harbormaster, it was simply about helping those who have always been their for the fishermen.
“You don’t think, ‘Do I go or not’ — you just go,” Penn said.
“They are always here for us.”
One crewman who was able to muster firing a flare while in the water barely remained conscious.
He had broken arm and struggled to remain lucid, Penn said.
The other had mangled legs and was unconscious when brought to shore, said Tribal Vice Chairman Lonnie Foster, who performed CPR.
“I’ve never seen anyone in that kind of condition before,” he said.
“To see this here in our little community is pretty devastating.”
The two other crew members were pulled from the water by the Coast Guard.
Three of the crew members were pronounced dead.
The lone survivor, who did not have life-threatening injuries, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The Coast Guard did not release their names Wednesday but did say all four were attached to Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, Alaska.
Petty Officer Eric Chandler, Coast Guard Sector Seattle spokesman, said the Coast Guard is “especially grateful” for the tribe’s response.
The fishermen weren’t the only people to witness the crash first-hand.
Tribal members and beachgoers enjoying Wednesday’s sunny, warm weather at First Beach viewed the 65-foot helicopter tumble out of the sky nearly overhead.
Witnesses said the helicopter was coming in fast and low, then banked sharply as a last-second attempt to avoid the power lines.
The tail snapped off before the helicopter spun into the shallow harbor, witnesses said.
Quileute tribal member Rio Jaime was working at the tribal school when saw the helicopter clip the power lines with its tail, which sent it spinning down into the water.
“It took us a little bit to realize that really happened,” he said.
Annemieke Van Berkel of Holland said she saw debris falling from the helicopter as it flew into the power lines.
Unable to help, Van Berkel, who was visiting LaPush on a family vacation, said she felt powerless as she witnessed the crash from the beach.
“I was shocked,” she added.
“You want to think that they are indestructible.”