Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Story of a hero I know

This story is over five years old. I have heard about pieces of this story when it happened and I remember the Gold Medal in Heroism. I only came across the details of what had happened recently from the article in Santa Barbara News-Press as reproduced in here. I know the hero's father well, Robert E. Lee Pickett, who is an old retired and respected colleague of mine. I think it's self-explanatory why I would like to preserved it here this heart warming freaque wave encounter story in my blog, but it is an exemplary heroic story nevertheless and it's all because they had encountered a dreadful freaque waves on an essentially calm day!

Skipper honored for saving his crew


The way skipper Mark Pickett recalls it, the water off Point
Conception was calm that day a year ago, but in a flash a
20-foot rogue wave bore down on the research vessel Ballena.

It tossed the 60-foot boat upside down like a toy, trapping
the skipper and two scientists inside the cabin underwater.
In the darkness, they fought their way to the surface.

The skipper swam, exhausted, to shore about a quarter-mile
away, and when he saw that his two companions would likely
drown, he swam back out and pulled each of them to safety.

The Ballena, worth at least $500,000 with its high-tech
surveying and research gear, was wrecked. But the trio was
alive -- and for that, Lt. Cmdr. Pickett of the National
Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Corps received the U.S.
Department of Commerce's Gold Medal in Heroism on Nov. 7.

The skipper, who lives in Monterey, got a standing ovation
during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. But the honor was
tinged with some sadness -- the Channel Islands Marine
Sanctuary had lost its only research vessel.

"When I first heard about (the honor), I didn't want
anything to do with it," Lt. Cmdr. Pickett said Saturday.
"We lost the boat."

That could be construed as "screwing up."

But there was an investigation, he said, that cleared
him of doing anything wrong.

His father helped him realize that as the skipper that day,
Nov. 4, 2000, his passengers were his first priority -- not
the boat. That message hit home recently when the wife of one
of the rescued men told him, "Thanks for bringing him back."

The Ballena's final voyage that day was part of a U.S.
Geologic Survey mission to sketch the sea floor using sonar
scans. The boat had been a familiar sight at the Santa Barbara
Harbor, where it was used for marine research and surveying.
Teachers took chartered trips on it to learn more about the
Santa Barbara Channel's plants and animals.

Lt. Cmdr. Pickett, the brother of Channel Islands Marine
Sanctuary Manager Matt Pickett, is a veteran vessel commander
of 17 years and had skippered the Ballena before. He was
called in to skipper that day because the vessel's usual
captain was not available, according to sanctuary officials.

With USGS scientists Guy Cochran and Michael Boyle of
Menlo Park aboard, the boat capsized about 11:30 a.m.
trapping them and the skipper.

Once out from under the boat, they climbed into a small
life raft, but ditched it fearing it might smash on the
rocky shore. They would swim instead.

"We all thought we could make it," he said. It was only
200 yards. They quickly found they were fighting for
their lives in the cold current.

"I thought I was going to die," he recalled. He managed
to make it to shore, finding a patch of sand amid the rocks.

When he saw the other two men were in trouble, he stripped
off his shoes and went back out, rescuing one as he was starting
to go under. Lt. Cmdr. Pickett was so exhausted by the time he
hauled that man ashore, he had to wait a few minutes before he
could go back out and bring in the other man.

Although one of the men couldn't walk or even crawl, somehow
they all managed to climb the rocky cliff barefoot and trek a
couple miles onto Vandenberg Air Force Base. Finally, a bus
full of military personnel picked them up.

"We were all bloodied up and beaten up bad," he said.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Thanks for saving my brother!

Jennifer Cochrane-Schultz
San diego