USCG Boatswain Recognized for Daring Surf Rescue at Newport

rescue crew yaquina bay
PO1 Wallace Qual, second from right, with his team after the successful rescue (USCG)

Published Nov 30, 2021 9:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

A boatswain’s mate from Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, Oregon has received the Association for Rescue at Sea's Gold Medal Award, the highest search and rescue award presented to a Coast Guard member by a civilian organization. The award is presented each year to an enlisted Coast Guard servicemember for an "act of extraordinary bravery during a rescue at sea."

Petty Officer 1st Class Wallace Qual received the AFRAS Gold Medal Award for leading the rescue of the master of the fishing vessel Legend, which went aground near Newport's Yaquina Bay bar last year.

At about 2340 hours on the night of Sept. 7, 2020, Coast Guard Sector North Bend watchstanders received a mayday call from a fisherman who reported that he was on the south jetty at Newport.

Crews aboard two motor lifeboats and a ground party were dispatched from Station Yaquina Bay. An Air Facility Newport aircrew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter also responded, but they turned back due to restricted visibility and hazardous weather conditions. One of the motor lifeboat crews arrived on scene at about 0120 hours, but they were unable to approach due to shoaling.

Meanwhile, the ground party ran about two miles to reach the scene from the South Beach State Park access area, bringing 500 feet of rescue line and other equipment with them. 

Shortly after they arrived, at about 0135 hours, the survivor abandoned ship into the water as the boat began to break up. Qual, the ground party's leader, made an attempt to swim out to meet him. As the mariner was quickly being swept south by surf and currents, Qual returned to shore. With a second attempt, Qual successfully reached the survivor. The crew on shore pulled the two from the surf using the rescue line. None were injured and the survivor was transferred to an EMS crew for evaluation. 

"The overall teamwork that went into locating the mariner, and the communication between our crews, was huge," said Qual after the rescue. "When I got to him, he was wearing his survival suit and had an EPIRB and strobe light in hand. That preparedness probably saved his life."