They were conducting a routine training exercise near Alcatraz when the distress call came in just before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. A good Samaritan alerted the Coast Guard that three people, including two children, were trapped on the rocks near Golden Gate Fields. They had apparently been fishing and failed to notice the rising tide.
"The biggest challenge was that the sun was going down as we were there," said Coast Guard helicopter pilot Lt. Matthew Kroll. "We got there about five minutes before sunset and by the time we were done it was already getting darker and darker."
It is the kind of mission they are trained to do. Still, it is tricky hoisting down the basket and a swimmer for the rescue. That is what aviation maintenance technician Tracey Spencer did Tuesday, and he says it is all about hand-eye coordination.
"Advice for kids and any of their parents around the water, ocean, bay, [is] life jackets, life jackets are big," said Spencer.
Police identify the stranded fishermen as 24-year-old Dung Ngyen and his 9-year-old and 12-year-old niece and nephew. None of them had life jackets or a cell phone.
Max Kaczmarek was the Coast Guard swimmer sent down from the dolphin helicopter to pluck them from the rocks and place them in the basket. He says the kids were cold and nervous.
"I kind of just said everything is going to be OK," said Kaczmarek. "I'm going to have you guys ride up together, and just make sure that you're brave for each other."
At Ngyuen's home in Oakland, his mother said everyone is OK, though she is not sure exactly what happened.
The Coast Guard says this should serve as a lesson to everyone who goes near the water to be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out on the tides.
In talking to Nguyen's mother, it appears he does not fully understand the danger that he, his niece, and nephew were in. The Coast Guard says they were extremely cold, it was turning pitch black, and the tide was rapidly rising.