Clearwater-based Coast Guard crews already saving lives

Helicopter crews from the Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater are on the front lines of search-and-rescue efforts in parts of the Bahamas ravaged by Hurricane Dorian.

"Truly it's going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation as the true nature of the devastation becomes apparent," said Captain Joe McGilley, commander of the air station.

Tuesday, relief flight crews and their equipment were loaded onto a transport aircraft in Clearwater. At least four H-60 Jayhawk helicopters from Clearwater were positioned at a Navy base in the Bahamas prior to the storm's arrival.

Each helicopter has at least four crew members. They transported seriously injured patients from a damaged clinic in Marsh Harbor. 

"When we arrived there, we helped to triage some of the critically injured patients and move them to Nassau for a higher level of medical care," said McGilley.

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The Clearwater Air Station could also be pressed into service to haul relief supplies in C-130 transport planes based there, but not yet.

"It's very difficult to get any assets in there other than helicopters," continued McGilley. "Most of the runways in the affected area have been inundated and awash with storm surge, so heavier aircraft, it's gonna take some time to get those in there."

Helicopters from Coast Guard air stations in Mobile, Alabama and Traverse City, Michigan are also being pressed into service.