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The U.S. Coast Guard made a dramatic rescue Sunday off the coast of California, pulling a 77-year-old man and his adult son from a stalled, single-engine Cessna plane that had been forced to crash-land on water.
U.S. Coast Guard Pilot Chris Courtney, who was dispatched to the scene with his crew of three, told NBC Bay Area that the difference between life and death for the two men was a matter of minutes.
On arrival, Courtney's crew hoisted up the father and then went for his son.
"Just as we pulled him off the aircraft, it rolled over to left and sank,” Courtney said. “If we’d been there any later, it’s very possible that those two would have died last night,” Courtney said.
Courtney said he has been sent to one other down-aircraft situation in his 14 years of piloting – and that incident did not end well.
Sunday’s dramatic rescue was Courtney’s third mission that day, leaving little time for his crew to draft a rescue plan and fly 45 minutes south to the plane’s location, about 30 miles from Big Sur.
“We had literally less than three minutes to get this done," he said, "and we were able to save those guys and get them back to airport -- so your adrenaline’s definitely kicking in.”
Courtney said the father and son were also to credit as they had equipped the aircraft with a GPS tool called a 406 Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon. That allowed them to send a help signal to a rescue coordination center via satellite, immediately transferring information about the beacon's owner, the aircraft and a phone number to call.
“It saves so much time,” Courtney said. “It’s your best chance to surviving if you are on a vessel in distress.”
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