Two USCG Rescue Swimmers Receive AFRAS Award for Bravery

Aviation Survival Technician 3rd Class Brendan Kiley describes his experiences during the Hurricane Harvey response (USCG)

By The Maritime Executive 09-12-2018 09:16:01

The Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS) has selected two U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers for its Vice Adm. Thomas R. Sargent III Gold Medal, an award for enlisted Coast Guard servicemembers who perform an act of extraordinary bravery during a rescue. 

Aviation Survival Technician 1st Class Matthew Silvious, of Air Station Clearwater, Florida, was the rescue swimmer aboard a Coast Guard helicopter that rescued two people aboard a sailboat foundering in the outer bands of Hurricane Irma on September 9, 2017. Despite knowing the risks of the mission - including the lack of an emergency divert airfield - Silvious volunteered to fly into the periphery of the hurricane to carry out the mission. 

Upon arriving on scene, Silvious' helicopter crew learned that one of the sailboat's occupants had abandoned ship in a five-foot dinghy and was attempting to row to land. 
In darkness and near-zero visibility, with winds blowing 45-60 knots, Silvious entered the water to effect a rescue. Despite the protests of the survivor, who resisted assistance, Silvious used a rescue strop to hoist him into the helicopter. He then went back into the water to rescue one more survivor from a life raft. It is unlikely that either individual would have survived without his intervention.   

The second recipient, Aviation Survival Technician 3rd Class Brendan Kiley of Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was a helicopter rescue swimmer deployed to the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey. His crew rescued 112 people between August 27 and 29. 

Kiley's aircrew flew from Lafayette, Louisiana to Houston to participate in the response effort. Due to the sheer number of 911 calls and the vast area of flooding, finding survivors was challenging, and the pilots to use their smart phones to navigate to street addresses.

Over the course of three days and 21 operating hours, Kiley deployed 18 times, descending from heights of more than 100 feet to avoid powerlines and other hazards to the helicopter. Often working alone, he put children and those needing assistance onto his back and swam them through floodwaters to the helicopter. Among other acts of bravery, he ignored electrical shocks from battery-powered medical equipment to rescue a bed-ridden patient; he was nearly hit by an oncoming semi truck that was attempting to navigate a flooded street; and he carried two young children down off a roof in a rubber storage bin. 

Petty Officers Silvious and Kiley will be recognized during the AFRAS Capitol Hill maritime search and rescue awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. The event will be hosted by Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN) and is coordinated by the board and officers of AFRAS. The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other senior maritime and congressional officials, will also attend.

Other AFRAS award recipients for 2018 include: 

- Auxiliarists Kathleen Goodwin, Steven Beckerman and Jan Jenne, for a medevac on the Columbia River (Chairman's Medal);
- The crew of the container ship Joanna, for rescuing 105 maritime migrants off Libya (AMVER Award)
- The crew of the Carnival Elation, for saving a fisherman during Hurricane Irma (Cruise Ship Humanitarian Assistance Award)
- The crew of the car carrier Hercules Leader, for rescuing six people from a disabled catamaran off Bermuda (AMVER Special Award)
- Capt. Nathan Lins of TowBoatUS Catalina, for rescuing a man overboard (C-Port Award)
- Crewmembers of the Domincan Naval Auxiliary Santo Domingo Flotilla and Air Unit (CAR/SAR Award)