Unpaid and Off Duty, Coast Guard Employee Still Rescues Surfer

Humboldt Bay's North Jetty in calm conditions (file image via social media)

By The Maritime Executive 01-25-2019 03:26:43

On Thursday, an off-duty Coast Guard employee rescued a surfer in distress near the Humboldt Bay north jetty in Eureka, California.

At about 0800 hours Thursday, a bystander called Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay to report that a surfer had lost his board near the bay's north jetty and appeared to be in distress. An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and a motor lifeboat crew launched to the scene. A California Department of Fish and Wildlife marine unit and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office also responded.

Steven Bluntzer, an off-duty Sector Humboldt Bay civilian search and rescue controller, happened to be at the scene.  He saw a man treading water in the high surf and strong current, and he asked a bystander to call 911.

Before official SAR teams could arrive, Bluntzer entered the water on his own surfboard and swam out to attempt a rescue. He pulled the victim onto his surfboard, despite high surf and strong current. Rescue boats arrived on scene shortly thereafter and transferred both men to shore. The victim reported he had been fighting the current and treading water for approximately 45 minutes after losing his surfboard.

“I just did what any Coastie would do in that situation,” said Bluntzer.

Bluntzer was off duty, but he was also off salary. At the time of the rescue, Coast Guard servicemembers and employees had not received pay for a month due to the long-running government shutdown.

The Humboldt Bay North Jetty was the scene of another high-profile rescue in 2017, when a helicopter aircrew had to retrieve a driver who had taken his pickup out onto the jetty in extreme surf conditions. The vehicle was struck by multiple waves and became disabled, stranding the driver.