For the U.S. Coast Guard's search and rescue (SAR) business, 1978 was a boom year. Nearly 78,000 SAR events transpired during those 12 months-an annual total never approached since then-with more than 100,000 SAR aircraft sorties flown overhead these emergencies. One Lockheed HC-130 Hercules mission west of Alaska's Aleutian Islands on a stormy autumn night was arguably the year's most memorable. No other 1978 SAR sortie ended with survivors ashore in Siberia at a Soviet Navy hospital, candidates for indefinite confinement behind the Cold War's Iron Curtain.
On Thursday, 26 October 2006, seven of the eight members of the crew on that mission assembled in Hangar 55 at the Coast Guard air station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. On a dais in front of an American flag so large it could have been the backdrop for the opening scene in the movie Patton, each of the seven men-all well into middle age, the eldest having just turned 60-received a medal for his part in that life-saving rescue nearly 30 years before and almost half the world away. The audience included five of the nine men alive who owed their lives to this crew.