Helicopter Pilot John D. Hess

On board with the Alaskan rescue swimmers 

Photography: Justin Bastien

Helicopter pilot John D. Hess and mechanic Jayson Merrero talk to the Red Bulletin about flights over the Bering Sea, and teamwork in extreme situations


THE RED BULLETIN: How do you stay cool when you and your copter get caught in a storm over the Bering Sea?

JOHN D. HESS: You need at least four years’ experience as a rescue pilot to fly at Kodiak. That helps.

And if it doesn’t?

Start your inner stopwatch and count to five, if there’s time. That will calm you.

How does your crew prepare for tricky missions?

By critiquing each other. Even after simple manoeuvres, like recovering empty rescue baskets. Anyone who can’t take criticism puts others at risk.

Can you really assess the risk in your job?

Partly. We go by ‘risk vs gain’. If lives are in danger, you can take more risks. 

What kind of risks?

Like taking more people on board. The record number is 26.

Take an in-depth look at the life of a rescue swimmer here

© The Red Bulletin 

The Eyes: Mechanic Jayson Marrero 

Mechanic Jayson Marrero

THE RED BULLETIN: What does a flight mechanic do?

JAYSON MARRERO: He’s the helicopter engineer and the pilot’s eyes at the accident site. We also winch down the rescue swimmers. That’s a difficult job here in the North Pacific.

What makes your area of operations so difficult? 

The remoteness and the extreme weather. In Florida, a 90kph wind is a tropical storm. In Alaska we call that a bog-standard working day. 

How does the extreme weather affect the teamwork on board?

It means that you have to take each training session seriously. We drop rescue swimmers onto boats that are rolling on 10m waves. You need to be as well prepared as possible. 

Do the swimmers always want to get into the water?

Of course! They’re adrenalin junkies. They bust their asses in training, week in, week out, to be fit in case of an emergency. 

Watch the latest episode of “Coast Guard Alaska

© Coast Guard Alaska TV // Youtube

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09 2016 The Red Bulletin

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