2016-12-15 / Front Page

Responders Honored for Rescue Effort

When a Family’s Canoe Sank in Lake Huron, Coast Guard, Sheriff ’s Office, Marine Rescue Raced To Help
By Erich T. Doerr


At left: Personnel from United States Coast Guard Station St. Ignace, Mackinac Island’s Mackinac Marine Rescue, and the Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office were honored with the Coast Guard’s David P. Dobbins Award for search and rescue excellence Friday morning, December 9, at the station. The group is pictured here together after receiving their awards, including (from left) Petty Officer Third Class Matt Shier, Petty Officer Second Class Ryan Etelamaki, Seaman Cameron Porter, and Fireman Zachary Mixdorf of Station St. Ignace, Sam Barnwell of Mackinac Marine Rescue, Mackinac County Undersheriff Ed Wilk, Marine Rescue’s Daniel Wightman, and Deputy Ron Umbarger. At left: Personnel from United States Coast Guard Station St. Ignace, Mackinac Island’s Mackinac Marine Rescue, and the Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office were honored with the Coast Guard’s David P. Dobbins Award for search and rescue excellence Friday morning, December 9, at the station. The group is pictured here together after receiving their awards, including (from left) Petty Officer Third Class Matt Shier, Petty Officer Second Class Ryan Etelamaki, Seaman Cameron Porter, and Fireman Zachary Mixdorf of Station St. Ignace, Sam Barnwell of Mackinac Marine Rescue, Mackinac County Undersheriff Ed Wilk, Marine Rescue’s Daniel Wightman, and Deputy Ron Umbarger. United States Coast Guard personnel from Station St. Ignace and members of the Mackinac Island’s Mackinac Marine Rescue team and Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office were honored Friday, December 9, with the Coast Guard’s Captain David P. Dobbins Award for excellence in search and rescue operations in recognition of their rescue of three people from the waters of Lake Huron July 6 after a canoe sank near the Castle Rock Campground.

Captain Mark Broz, the sector commander at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie in charge of the organization’s operations across the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Lower Peninsula, presented the award during a small ceremony at the Coast Guard station Friday morning.

The Coast Guard’s boat crew that took part in the rescue included Petty Officer Third Class Matt Shier, Petty Officer Second Class Ryan Etelamaki, Seaman Cameron Porter, and Fireman Zachary Mixdorf. They were honored alongside Sam Barnwell and Daniel Wightman of Mackinac Marine Rescue and Undersheriff Ed Wilk and Deputy Ron Umbarger from the sheriff’s office.

The July 6 emergency occurred when a canoe sank in Lake Huron near Rabbit’s Back Point with a 57-year-old man and his two grandchildren, aged 8 and 12, onboard. The trio attempted unsuccessfully to swim to shore before a call for help was made just before 6 p.m. Rescue teams were dispatched and began arriving at the scene within seven minutes. The St. Ignace Fire Department maintained visual contact from the shore while rescue vessels from the Coast Guard, sheriff’s office, and Mackinac Marine Rescue responded on the water. All three boaters were safely pulled from the water, cold but uninjured. The canoe was also later recovered. All three of the canoe’s passengers wore life jackets, a decision widely regarded as contributing to their successful rescue.

“That’s awesome that there is a family that is still together and alive because of what you do,” Captain Broz said. “Collectively we make a good team.”

St. Ignace commander Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Andrew Babione noted a unique aspect of this rescue was that it took place in very shallow water. The Coast Guard’s vessel did not hit bottom but Mr. Babione said if that was necessary to do so to reach those in need, the boat crew would have done it. Mackinac Marine Rescue and Station St. Ignace crews took part in 13 joint search and rescue missions this year.

The Coast Guard used its 25- foot Response Boat Small during the July rescue. It would be one of the vessel’s last search and rescue operations as it was retired from service in September, when a new 29-foot Response Boat Small came in to replace it.

The late Captain Dobbins was the first superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service’s Great Lakes division in the late 19th century, his organization later merging with the United States Revenue Cutter Service to form the Coast Guard in 1915. He distinguished himself in the years before assuming that post through the organization and execution of several major rescues on the lakes and designing a new type of lifeboat that was self-righting, quicker, and more maneuverable than prior models. Elements of his design continue in use as part of today’s rescue craft.

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