I’m an underwater photographer, but you won’t find many macro images of coral or clownfish in my portfolio. I’m inspired by the people who connect most directly with the water: freedivers, researchers, filmmakers, and, above all, rescue swimmers of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).
It’s fascinating to think that a multi-million dollar helicopter and rescue swimmer, wearing just a pair of fins, work together to accomplish the same mission. It is a highly specialized pairing of man and machine. But the most important part of the story is how rescue swimmers train to do their jobs in the worst conditions, all in an effort “so others may live,” the USCG rescue swimmer motto.
Over the past few months, I’ve worked closely with these heli-jumping heroes. Wherever I went in connection with this project, I received incredible access and support from all levels of the Coast Guard. I qualified at Air Station Savannah in Georgia to exit a hovering helicopter by rescue hook. I swam alongside recruits in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as they attempted to pass the rescue-swimmer course. I shot photos of these professionals in the midst of severe physical pain and mental challenges. I also deployed with Air Station Kodiak and Air Station Miami, where I swam under thundering helis and watched, from a water-level perspective, these rescuers in action.
Photo: Aviation Survival Technician 3rd Class (AST3) Robert Burke swims away from a MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter near Kodiak, Alaska.