Aviation records usually are established in clear weather, with pilot (and crew) and aircraft carefully primed for establishing the new mark. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard-the smallest U.S. military service with the smallest air arm-rarely sets them.
But the Coast Guard did establish a record on 17 December, when HH-60J Jayhawk helicopters plucked 34 crewmen from a sinking passenger ship off the Virginia coast. With 30-foot-high seas and winds gusting to 75 knots, the 605-foot cruise ship Sea Breeze I was beginning to sink. On board was a crew of 34 men who were taking the Panamanian-registered ship from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Charleston, South Carolina, for repairs. There were no passengers on board.
Some 225 nautical miles off Cape Henry, Virginia, the Sea Breeze I suffered an engine failure and began shipping water. The ship quickly developed a list as she was lashed by heavy seas. An SOS was transmitted, and two HH-60Js were launched from the Coast Guard air station at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Two Coast Guard HC-130H Hercules also launched to provide communications support.