Searching for a Beautiful Woman

Brad Milliken is a sailor and formerly with the U.S. Coast Guard, whereas a Response Officer, spent most of his time coordinating search and rescue cases. Here is one of them:

The Coast Guard is at war.

This is a well-circulated sentiment within the U.S. Coast Guard’s search and rescue community. In this war, the enemy is not a traditional adversary but rather a growing army of morons with boats and money whose imagination and incompetence know no limit. As a Response Officer and Search and Rescue Team Lead in the Coast Guard, I found myself on the front lines of that war for several years.

Today’s Coast Guard can trace its search and rescue roots back to the mid-1800s, with the founding of the United States Lifesaving Service. The storied history of the community is chock full of noteworthy lifesavers like Joshua James, Ida Lewis, and Bernie Webber.

From the days of ”You have to go out, you don’t have to come back” to the integration of advanced computer modeling and heat-seeking cameras mounted on unmanned aircraft, the search and rescue community has evolved to continually reassure the maritime community that it is ready to answer the call, whatever that call may bring.

Search and rescue coordination is a planner’s game and information is king. Computer models assist with real-time drift simulations based on live feeds of wind, tide, and water current data. Safety devices that seafarers use are more portable, durable, and GPS friendly than ever before. More tools and better methods exist today for the search and rescue planner than at any other point in history.

However, the fact remains that all of these processes require information to be operationalized.

From my time at the National Search and Rescue School, I recall “We make decisions with 100% consequence based on 50% information.” Operationally, I found that to be accurate. Knowing that we were rarely dealing with all of the information we would like, it was very difficult to discard any information we did receive when searching for someone.

In the late summer of 2017, a local 911 call center forwarded a distress call to my team. This wasn’t uncommon – we maintained good working relationships with the local 911 call centers. When people called 911 with issues that could be more appropriately handled by the Coast Guard than local authorities, the call centers would patch the caller through to us and we’d take over.

In this instance, our dedicated search and rescue phone line rang, with the Caller ID showing a county’s 911 call center. As a matter of practice, everyone on our team picked up their headsets to listen. As one person would take lead on the call, someone else would take notes, another would start notifying partners, and the rest of the team would start creating search patterns, preparing broadcasts, running drift simulations, or documenting the situation as we all listened.

“Hey, we have a guy on a sailboat whose girlfriend fell overboard. They’re in the river and he’s not a sailor.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

*beep* “Alright sir, we’ve got you on with the Coast Guard.”

Process engage. Knowing that we were already behind and working against a ticking clock, we were fishing for the critical details that would allow us to launch the appropriate assets. Where did the woman fall overboard? When did it happen? Who and what are we looking for?

Later on, the caller would explain that his girlfriend (an experienced sailor) had taken him on an evening cruise. It was his first time on a sailboat. While hanging over the side of the boat to adjust some rigging, the wake from a passing ship rocked their boat and caused her to fall overboard. The sails and rudder were locked in place to allow them to cruise, and our caller didn’t know how to turn the boat around or what to do. She was not wearing a life jacket.

Embarrassed, the caller admitted that they didn’t have a GPS and he did not know where he was, but he knew the name of the marina they left from, a rough estimate of when they left, and which direction they proceeded in the river. That would have to be good enough. His girlfriend had fallen overboard around five minutes before this point in the call. Then came the final question for our initial push:

“Can you give us a description of who we’re looking for?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your girlfriend. Can you give us a physical description? What does she look like?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. She’s..uh…tall. Thin. She’s wearing blue bikini bottoms, a black bikini top, and I’ll tell you what, she’s f#cking beautiful. Just stunning. Oh, she is gorgeous.”

As mentioned above, information is king. Per our search and rescue protocols, we documented things like the description of missing persons exactly as they were communicated to us, as a way to limit the potential for misinterpretation. This time was no different.

The description of the woman was entered into our documentation and information sharing system (and immediately sent to each of our assets and partners) exactly as it was told to us. As soon as I saw the description flash on my screen, I turned to face the girl who entered it into the system and shot her a look of, “Did you really?” She gave me a shrug and whispered, “What? That’s what he said.”

With a description posted for everyone involved in the operation to see, we cranked away at our drift simulations, search and rescue patterns, and we somewhat successfully talked our caller through some sailing fundamentals that allowed him to stop sailing away. Our search and rescue assets were alerted to be on the lookout for a beautiful, bikini-clad woman who was described as both gorgeous and stunning.

About an hour after the initial call, one of the boats from the local Coast Guard Station spotted a woman sitting on the riverbank waving at them. They confirmed that she’d fallen overboard, swam to shore, and aside from a bruised ego, was no worse for wear. We reunited her with her boyfriend and closed the case. Successful result.

As a matter of routine, we invited those involved in the operation to participate in our debrief. Following a standard review of decision-making points and the effectiveness of standard protocols, the question was posed to the group as to what, specifically, led to this search and rescue case’s successful result. After a few seconds of silence, the coxswain of the Station boat chimed in.

“Accurate description of the missing person.”

Immediately, someone else followed.

“Yeah. It was a VERY accurate description.”

Let it be known that if I’m ever missing, I would like to be described in the initial report as handsome, charming, well-proportioned, and if not outright striking, some variant of conventionally attractive with a great personality.

That’s just what I would prefer.

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