Helicopter Pilot John D. Hess

On board with the Alaskan rescue swimmers 

Words: Andreas Rottenschlager
Photography: Justin Bastien

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


THE RED BULLETIN: How do you stay cool when you and your aircraft 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 maneuvers, 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 50-knot 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 you have to take each training session seriously. We drop rescue swimmers onto boats that are rolling on 30-foot waves. You need to be prepared for that. 

Do the swimmers always want to get into the water?

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

Watch the latest episode of “Coast Guard Alaska

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09 2016 The Red Bulletin

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