International Maritime Organization: American rescuer who saved four to be recognized with IMO bravery accolade

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23 July 2019

Petty Officer Michael Kelly, a rescue swimmer with the United States Coast Guard, will receive the 2019 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, for his courage, perseverance and skill in rescuing four survivors from a life raft, in extremely high winds and heavy seas.

A panel of judges decided that the rescue merited the highest award. The decision was endorsed by the IMO Council at its 122nd session in London (15-19 July).

Petty Officer Michael W. Kelly, Aviation Survival Technician Second Class, Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, United States Coast Guard, was nominated by the United States of America for his part in the rescue operation which took place on 14 November 2018.

On that stormy day, the crew of the rescue helicopter CG6032 was directed to provide assistance to the sinking fishing vessel Aaron and Melissa II. The vessel’s four crew members were abandoning ship in very severe weather conditions, 70 miles off the Coast of Portland, Maine, United States.

After taking off, the helicopter crew immediately encountered very strong turbulence and gusts up to 60 knots. Arriving on scene, the aircrew located a life raft, battered by raging seas.

AST2 Michael Kelly was immediately deployed into the cold water. Battling 20-foot waves and chasing the raft, which was constantly being blown away by 50-knot winds, he finally managed to reach the anchor line and pull himself to the life raft.

It was a critical situation with all four survivors suffering from hypothermia. Two were unable to swim, while the flooded raft was in danger of capsizing. With great strength and stamina, AST2 Michael Kelly pulled each survivor from the raft, one by one, swimming strongly through the storm to keep them afloat. Each was lifted into the swaying rescue basket to be hoisted to safety.

After each rescue, AST2 Kelly was forced to regain lost ground, as the heavy winds continued to push the raft further away. He fought through extreme weather conditions, as well as physical and mental exhaustion, to save the lives of four seafarers in distress.

The panel of judges agreed that AST2 Kelly demonstrated truly exceptional bravery and determination.