The Abaco branch of Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association has been awarded the prestigious Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS) Caribbean Search & Rescue Award for 2012. AFRAS membership includes the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the British Royal National Lifeboat Institution as well as many other marine rescue organizations worldwide.
During the week of 6-10 November 2011, the Abaco’s experienced some of the heaviest sea conditions seen in fifty years. This was caused by a sub-tropical weather system offshore. Small craft advisories were issued and many larger cargo ships elected to remain in port. The passages between the Sea of Abaco and the Atlantic Ocean were generally judged as impassable.
Unfortunately, some did not heed these warnings and there were four separate maritime incidents to which BASRA Abaco responded. A total of 61 lives were saved but sadly three souls perished.
On Monday 7th November 2011, the 46’ boat “Hideout” with 6 persons aboard, capsized and broke apart while trying to negotiate North Man-O-War passage. The BASRA 26’ RIB was immediately dispatched from Hope Town with Mr. Clay Wilhoyte in command and crewed by his eldest son, Andrew Wilhoyte. A Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) patrol vessel was also dispatched from Marsh Harbour, Abaco and a formal request was made by BASRA to the United States Coast Guard, for helicopter support.
Over a period of two hours, in extremely dangerous conditions and 12-15 foot breaking waves, Mr. Wilhoyte picked his way through coral heads and recovered four persons from the water, transferred them to the RBDF vessel and then returned to the reef to look for additional survivors. One further person was recovered but unfortunately they were unresponsive. The search for the last remaining crew member was unsuccessful.
The BASRA boat suffered significant damage during this search, with the centre console becoming separated from the boat deck by a wave.
In a written note to the United States Coast Guard Liaison Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, LCDR William Friday, the aircraft commander of the helicopter that assisted in the search for survivors commented as follows:-
“With the Coast Guard helicopter located over 45 minutes away, BASRA’s Rescue Boat Captain Clay Wilhoyte’s selfless actions are the reason four people are alive today. By the time the USCG helicopter arrived, BASRA had already saturated the immediate scene of the capsized sport fishing vessel, and provided recommendations to us to expand the search area based on local knowledge and weather conditions. The rescue efforts were compounded by dangerous seas breaking over the reef, threatening the BASRA vessel with its own peril as it continued the unsuccessful search of the final crewmember.”
The AFRAS plaque qualified the award to BASRA “For Demonstrating Superb Vigilance, Skill, Determination and Teamwork”.
On learning of the award, Mr. Clay Wilhoyte, the Captain of the BASRA boat for the rescue said “It’s always a team effort in these types of rescues, for every responder actually
on-scene in the boat, there are two or three others diligently working phones and radios, coordinating the search and just as importantly, those making sure the equipment is maintained and ready to go when needed. We had four major rescues that week and for each one, there were different members in the boat, this was just the one that was picked for an award”.
The Abaco branch of Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association was established in the 1960’s and is a volunteer organization whose members give their time freely to save and assist those in peril. It is wholly financed through donations and fundraising events.