The Selendang Ayu, a Malaysian cargo ship carrying soybeans from Seattle, Washington to China ran aground off the coast of western Alaska's Aleutian Islands on December 8, 2004 during a brutal storm, leading to one of the most harrowing Coast Guard rescue missions of all time.
Two Coast Guard HH-60J Jayhawk helicopters lifted off immediately from Air Station Kodiak during the driving storm in an effort to rescue the ship's 18 crewmembers before it broke apart and sank in the freezing Alaskan waters. Nine of the crew were lifted from the ship and dropped aboard the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, which was stationed nearby. But during attempts to save the last eight crewmembers, one of the Jayhawks was engulfed by a rogue wave that broke over the bow of the ship. When its engines flamed out from ingesting water, the Jayhawk crashed into the sea. The seven crew members from the ship who had been hoisted into the aircraft, along with the chopper's three-man crew plunged into the bitterly cold ocean where hypothermia began to set in immediately. In yet another daring rescue that night, the chopper HH-65B Dolphin from the Alex Haley recovered the three-man Coast Guard crew and one of the crewmembers from the ship who had been on the aircraft, then returned to rescue the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer and ship's master from the Selendang Ayu, which had broken in half during their absence. Though eight men died, the Coast Guard crew would all be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions in saving ten men that night under truly horrible conditions.
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SPIKE WALKER spent more than ten seasons aboard some of the most successful crab boats in the Alaskan fleet, and rode out one of the worst storms in Alaska’s history. He is the author of Working on the Edge, Nights of Ice and Coming Back Alive. Spike lives in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.