U.S. Coast Guard Marks a Million Lives Saved

The U.S. Coast Guard marks more than a million lives saved in a 217th birthday ceremony Saturday. As part of the announcement, the service has released a "Top 10 Rescue Videos" compilation on YouTube and a "Top Ten Coast Guard Rescues" list dating back to 1888. Coast Guard Chief of Public Affairs Jim McPherson describes some of the highlights.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We're learning more about some of the people who died on Wednesday in the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minnesota.

Julia Blackhawk was 32. She had two boys, ages 8 and 9. She was studying to work in a salon. Artemio-Trinidad Mena was working as a salesman. He was a citizen of Mexico. However, he and his wife have been living in this country for 10 years. Their daughter was born just two months ago.

Sherry Engebretsen was 60, married with two daughters, 18 and 20. She worked at a financial firm. She almost never took the bridge because of the traffic.

Patrick Holmes was married with two young children, a boy, 6, and a daughter, 4. A star college athlete, he coached children's baseball and soccer. He made his living as an exercise therapist.

One other body has not yet been identified. Seven more people are still reported missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NORRIS: Tomorrow marks a triumph for people who make their living, rescuing people from the water. It's the U.S. Coast Guard's 217th birthday - if you're counting the service's early days, as the Revenue Marine. The Coast Guard will mark the anniversary with a parade, a carnival and fireworks in Coast Guard City, USA, otherwise known as Grand Haven, Michigan. And there will be a very special announcement.

NORRIS: For the first time, we sat down and we tabulated all the rescues. And we find that we've rescued more than one million lives since 1790.

NORRIS: That's right. More than one million lives rescued, says Coast Guard Chief of Public Affairs Jim McPherson. And what better way to celebrate over a million lives saved...

...than with Coast Guard top 10 rescue videos, a short film the service recently debuted on YouTube. It's a nine-minute compilation of harrowing scenes - tug and fishing boats vanishing under heavy seas, cruise ships set ablaze, life jackets being thrown to Caribbean immigrants, and one scene called Hurricane Gordon, 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOP 10 RESCUE VIDEOS)

U: Do you think this is safe? Or you think they're better on the boat?

NORRIS: A woman and baby have just been plucked from a sailboat by a helicopter. But the Coast Guard crew hauling up the basket isn't sure they're going to make it, and they're running out of gas.

U: Thank God.

U: Hold, hold altitude, hold altitude. (Unintelligible) slow. Basket's half way up. It's swaying pretty good.

U: How's the gas?

U: We got another half hour. We're about twenty minutes on sea.

U: Okay. How about bringing them in back first? I will bring them in face first, because that's the way up around to get it around the tank.

U: Okay. I'm going to look at you.

U: Okay. I'm bringing them up. I'm bringing them in.

NORRIS: And they were safe. Now, one graphic calls these the Coast Guard's top 10 rescues of all time. But Captain McPherson assures us there's actually another top 10 list of all time, Coast Guard rescues that predate video cameras. The oldest rescue to make that list coming in at number five in 1888, a rescue called Joshua James and the Hull, Massachusetts, life-saving station.

NORRIS: He and his crew, they saved 28 people from five different vessels in 48 hours, in a tremendous storm. Bringing the people through the surf, off the racks back to the beach.

NORRIS: A strong performance, yes. But not quite as impressive as the 33,500 people saved in the Coast Guard's number one rescue, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For example...

NORRIS: A rescue swimmer was lowered onto the roof of a house and took a fire ax and chopped through the roof and pulled an elderly couple through the roof. And it's something that's never been done before, but it shows the types of things that Coast Guard men and women will do.

NORRIS: That's Coast Guard Chief of Public Affairs Jim McPherson, talking about a milestone for the service this weekend - more than a million lives saved.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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