Harrison Green-Maki learned how to swim when he was just 3.
His nickname was “Flipper.” He competed on the swim team all three years at Capital High, his mom said.
Green-Maki enlisted in the Navy right after graduating in 2007, and serves on an aviation crew with a secondary mission to do search and rescue. He went through two years of training to be a rescue swimmer.
“I just wanted to fly mainly. Being a rescue swimmer on top of that is icing,” said the 25-year-old petty officer, who participated in his first sea rescue this week.
Just after noon Monday, a man aboard a 27-foot sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico radioed for help when his boat struck a sandbar and began sinking.
“I had an adrenaline rush the entire time, but everything went extremely well and smooth,” Green-Maki said Thursday in a phone interview from Panama City, Fla. “This is something we train for every week.”
Green-Maki’s unit, nicknamed the “Dragon Masters,” is part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division. The division’s primary mission is research and evaluation of mine warfare systems.
When the mayday call came Monday, the Dragon Masters were deployed.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Mobile, Ala., relayed information to the naval aviation crew. The sailboat ran had run aground and capsized about three miles from Cape San Blas, Fla.
With rough longitude and latitude coordinates, the four-member search-and-rescue crew flew in an MH-60S helicopter to the area. The crew took off at 12:35 p.m., and was on scene within 20 minutes.
They listened to radio communication between the sailor and the Coast Guard and then were able to talk directly to the man on the sinking boat.
“We were directing him what to do once we got on scene,” Green-Maki said. They told the man to get into the water and swim away from the boat.
The rescue team needed to be sure the metal cable that lowered Green-Maki wouldn’t get caught in the sailboat, and that the downforce created by the helicopter wouldn’t further submerged the boat.
The helicopter hovered bout 70 feet off the water. The winds was 15 to 20 knotts, creating choppy waters with 3- to 4-foot waves, Green-Maki said.
The sailor on the sinking boat followed orders and jump into the water. Fully clothed and with no lifejacket, he treaded water as Green-Maki was lowered to the water.
“He was physically tired and a little bit in shock,” Green-Maki said.
Green-Maki secured the man in his harness, and the pair were lifted up to the helicopter. They arrived back at the flight deck around 1:30 p.m. – the entire rescue lasting about an hour.
The sailor was evaluated and released without going to the hospital.
Boisean Sherri Green, who works as administrative assistant at the Idaho Youth Ranch, heard about her son’s first rescue via text message. She went online to see Navy and media accounts.
“I just felt overwhelming pride,” said Green.