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Coast Guard in N.C. Trains for All Water Tragedies

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ELIZABETH CITY — TheCoast Guardis probably the least talked-about branch of the military, until there is a tragedy on the water. Surprisingly, the statistics average out to at least one rescue per day along the North Carolina coast.

After the disappearance of JFK Jr.'s plane, the world is watching the Massachusetts coast. But a trip to the North Carolina coast also gives you a lot to watch.

If you get into trouble anywhere along the North Carolina coast, there is a 240-member crew to save you. With five C-130s and three Jayhawk helicopters, the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station is ready and prepared to act.

The Albemarle sound was the setting for a training exercise Monday. The exercise simulated a plane crash where survivors were in the water. The crew's ability to work as a team means the difference between life and death.

"When we actually get into a situation where someone's in trouble, a boat is sinking, someone's dying," says Lt. Nick Foester with the U.S. Coast Guard, "maybe someone's severely hurt on a fishing vessel, instead of thinking this is an emergency situation where you have to act fast, you're thinking about procedures, and you're doing the job you're paid to do."

The training is getting more and more important because of the increasing number of rescues. Last year the Elizabeth City Air Station ran 400 rescues; the total this year is already 358.

The pilot and co-pilot of the training mission have close ties to the crews searching for the JFK Jr. wreckage.

"We both had previous tours of duty at Cape Cod, so we still know a lot of guys up there. I'm from the area," says Lt. Cmdr. Mike Morgan with the U.S. Coast Guard. "It's a sad thing, but I guess knowing that the Coast Guard is there, professional and ready to answer the call, is something I'm very proud of."

The two North Carolina pilots know a lot about the conditions around Cape Cod as well. They call it probably the most difficult area they have ever worked in terms of rescue operations -- mostly because of the fog.


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