June 4, 2008

Remarks on Rhode Islander Honored by Coast Guard

Mr. President, I rise today to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of Petty Officer Scott Higgins of my state of Rhode Island, who today will be awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal for his efforts in the heroic rescue of the crew of the sailboat Sean Seamour II off the coast of North Carolina in May. 
On May 7, Aviation Machinery Technician 2nd Class Higgins was part of a four-man Coast Guard HH-60 helicopter crew, including Lt. Commander Nevada Smith, Lieutenant J.G. Aaron Nelson, and Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Drew Dazzo, deployed in response to a distress signal from the 44-foot sailing vessel Sean Seamour II.  The vessel, on a recreational sailing trip from Green Coves Spring, Florida to Portugal’s Azores Islands, had capsized amidst the hurricane-force winds of Subtropical Storm Andrea.  The three sailors aboard were forced to evacuate to a small raft just before their ship was swallowed by the ocean.   
Higgins, serving as Flight Mechanic, worked closely with Nelson, who piloted the helicopter, and Dazzo, the team’s rescue swimmer, to execute their mission.  Working quickly and expertly, Higgins lowered Dazzo over and over again into the towering waves to reach the sailboat crew.  Once the first two sailors had been lifted to safety, Higgins and Nelson demonstrated what the Coast Guard’s Summary of Action called “the utmost of crew coordination, teamwork and aeronautical skill” as they hoisted Dazzo only 30 feet above the water to position him closer to the life raft and the last survivor.
As Higgins worked to raise the final survivor from the ocean, he felt the hoist cable begin to fray with the rescue basket still 100 feet below the helicopter and the rescue swimmer still in the water.  Despite suffering from exhaustion and the effects of salt water inhalation, Dazzo waited to request an emergency pickup until he could see that the last survivor was in the aircraft. 
Again demonstrating extraordinary skill and teamwork in a life-or-death situation, Higgins managed to get the rescued sailor safely aboard and immediately redeploy the compromised hoist cable to retrieve Dazzo.  In the midst of an intense storm, all aboard were safely returned to shore.
Higgins and the rest of his team successfully rescued the crew of the Sean Seamour II despite a punishing storm that threatened their lives and the lives of those they were sent to help.  As the Coast Guard’s Summary of Action stated:
“High winds, treacherous seas and extreme off-shore distances created a situation that required intense operational risk management, exacting crew coordination, and incredible skill and courage. Without the complete competence, concentration, and professionalism of every crewmember, this operation could have had a disastrous outcome. Each crewmember was essential to the life saving rescue of three mariners.”
The Coast Guard Commendation Medal recognizes meritorious service resulting in unusual and outstanding achievement.  The courage, bravery, and skill demonstrated by Machinery Technician Higgins and in May shows that he is more than worthy of this great honor. 
I come to the Senate floor today to offer my congratulations to Petty Officer Scott Higgins and to all those whom the Coast Guard recognizes today.  His achievements have brought honor both to him and to his home state of Rhode Island.
I thank the chair and I yield the floor.

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