An attempted medical evacuation of a cruise ship passenger in the Gulf of Mexico turned into a harrowing ordeal for a Coast Guard rescue crew whose helicopter nearly crashed after encountering sudden, severe weather during the rescue.
The chopper was sent to the Carnival Dream about 300 miles offshore from Fort Morgan, Alabama, Saturday morning to pick up a 76-year-old passenger in medical distress when the weather suddenly deteriorated, imperiling the chopper and its crew.
A Coast Guard Jayhawk encounters severe weather while trying to rescue a patient from the cruise ship Carnival Dream off the Alabama coast on April 29, 2023.(Kim Soares via Storyful / FOX Weather)
The rescue crew was able to lower a rescue swimmer onto the ship, but as they were about to hoist a cruise ship nurse, "a severe squall caused the aircrew to back off from the ship," Coast Guard officials said.
Moments later, the Jayhawk "encountered a severe downwind," pushing the chopper dangerously close to the surf.
Ship passenger Kim Soares witnessed the intense rescue attempt and said she feared what might happen as she watched the helicopter become more and more unstable, then plunge near the water.
A Coast Guard Jayhawk encounters severe weather while trying to rescue a patient from the cruise ship Carnival Dream off the Alabama coast on April 29, 2023. (Kim Soares via Storyful / FOX Weather)
But she told Storyful that the pilot did "an amazing job regaining control."
The helicopter regained altitude, but the pilot had to abort the mission due to the dangerous weather conditions.
"Through exceptional real-time risk management, crew resource management, and superb piloting, the aircrew was able to safely recover the aircraft and land at the air station without further incident," said Cmdr. Keith Blair, the commanding officer at the Coast Guard Air Station in New Orleans.
Once the weather calmed about six hours later, the Coast Guard was able to send another crew to the ship, picking up the passenger and their rescue swimmer.
The 76-year-old patient was brought to a New Orleans hospital, where he was reported to have stable vital signs.