Prior to every patrol, or operation, Auxiliary flight crew undertake a through pre-flight briefing that includes area of operation, flight plan, risk assessment, situational awareness, crew resource management and survival equippment required for the patrol.
By Amy Sylvestri
CASTRO VALLEY FORUM
The U.S. Coast Guard is looking for a few good men and women – but they aren’t asking for you to enlist. They want volunteers to be observers during search and rescue missions and other important flights.
Volunteer Ron Darcey is a pilot and he and other volunteers regularly take to the air in privately owned two-, four- and six-seater planes at the Hayward, Livermore, and Concord airports to search for missing people, boats in distress, and even to spot drug-smuggling boats on the Bay in the Delta and all over Northern California.
Darcey says there is no problem finding pilots to volunteer, but they do need concerned citizens to fly with them to spot the hazards. He encourages all fit adult Castro Valley residents to apply – no experience needed.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary’s 11th District Northern Region patrols California from the Oregon state line to San Luis Obispo and has had many volunteers from Castro Valley over the years.
The Auxiliary provides the training, which takes up to 25 hours the first month for certification. But after that, volunteer hours are mostly on evenings and weekends.
“We’re looking for someone who is dedicated,” said Darcey. “This is an important job. Lives are at stake.”
Volunteers will be trained in aviation, observation, and aerial photography. Darcey says it even occasionally leads to careers for young people who get hooked on what the patrol does. To participate, volunteers must be physically fit and meet weight requirements.
One of the most exciting missions Darcey flew was when he was called to find five young men on a boat who had become stranded on Sherman Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. There are no lights on the island and darkness was closing fast.
“They had a cell phone, but it was weak,” said Darcey. “We asked if they had any sort of signal or even a flashlight, and they had an auto flare. They were lucky to have an auto flare on a boat. We said, when you hear the plane, light that flare.”
The plane spotted the flare and got a rough location, but it still took five hours on the massive 14,000-acre delta to find and rescue the men. Darcey said they were very lucky.
“What people don’t realize is that the Bay and the Delta can be really deadly at night,” said Darcey.
Darcey has also flown patrols that spotted illegal dumping of chemicals, leading to shutting down a Chinese vessel that dumped its toxic load after being stuck on a sand bar. The captain lost his license and Darcey and his crew had to give federal depositions.
He’s spotted people poaching fish, another guy trying to get rid of a fleet of boats he no longer wanted by setting them on fire, and even caught suspected drug boats from Mexico coming into the Bay.
For more information, check out the Coast Guard Auxiliary website at www.cgaux.com