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Saving Lives and Seizing Drugs

The Coast Guard Air Station in Los Angeles covers a wide and very busy area in Southern California. Alan Kenny found out more.

21-Mar-2014

Southern California is well known for its beaches, ocean and sailing. It is also known for sharks, rugged coastlines and drug smuggling. All of this equals a busy time for the Coast Guard in the Los Angeles area. The Air Station operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and covers almost 300 miles of coastline. The operating area runs from Morro Bay, 200 miles north west of Los Angeles to Dana Point, 60 miles south east. It also covers the eight Channel Islands of San Clemente, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, San Nicholas and Santa Catalina, which lie off the coast of Southern California.

The Air Station is located at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), to the west of the main passenger terminals. The Air Station in Los Angeles was established in August 1962 by a combined effort from Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Senator Thomas H. Kutchel, and U.S. Representative James Roosevelt to instate it. It started off as an air detachment from San Diego and consisted of a sole Sikorsky HO4S. The Air Station was officially commissioned on November 15, 1962 with two HO4S. The HO4S were retired the following May when three Sikorsky HH-62A ‘Sea Guard’ helicopters entered service. The Sea Guard fleet was temporarily increased for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games in July of that year. The HH-62A fleet was finally retired in November 1987 after 24 years in service. The Coast Guard is currently equipped with four Eurocopter MH-65C Dolphins, which they have operated since their introduction into service in November 1987. The Air Station started off with nine officers and 20 enlisted personnel and currently has 15 officers and 45 enlisted personnel.

The Eurocopter MH-65C Dolphin has been at the Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles for nearly 30 years. They have a crew of two pilots, a flight mechanic and a rescue swimmer. The HH-65 was the entry into service model and featured a much less capable radar and avionics suite than the upgraded MH-65C. One of the reasons the Coast Guard selected the Dolphin was for the computerisex flight management system, including autopilot capabilities. It is able to complete an unaided approach to sea level and bring the helicopter to a stable 50ft (15m) hover, whilst also automatically flying search patterns. Both of these benefits free the workload of the pilots to concentrate on other tasks. The helicopter is a light-weight design, under 10,000lbs and 75% of the aircraft – fuselage, rotor head and blades - are made from a corrosion-resistant composite which is ideal for salt water operations.

The rescue swimmers job is very physical and demanding. They often have to swim in inclement weather and rough seas. The Coast Guard at Los Angeles use two sizes of rescue cage to hoist people in distress up into the helicopter. The smaller one has also been used to rescue animals. One such incident involved a dog on a yacht which capsized off the coast of Los Angeles.

Besides Search and Rescue (SAR), homeland security and environmental protection, the CG also deal with drug smuggling and trafficking. Back in August 2013, the Coast Guard seized 52 bales of marijuana near Zuma Beach, Malibu, just off the Los Angeles Coast. The Los Angeles County Lifeguards stationed at the beach noticed the boat circling beyond the waves which was communicating with a vehicle and trailer in the parking lot. This prompted them to alert the Coast Guard. The CG sent two boats and one of their MH-65Cs to arrest the criminals. Fog prevented an immediate capture as the boat was using it for cover. However, 30 minutes later and seven miles to the west, they were finally apprehended and arrested.

The Coast Guard Air Station is just over 20 miles away from the studios of Hollywood. So over the years the Coast Guard and their MH-65C Dolphins have starred in many Los Angeles based television shows, most notably Baywatch. The Dolphins are shown in at three scenes in the opening credits. The appearances are great exposure for the Coast Guard and the activities they carry out as well as being a great recruiting tool.

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