FORT MEADE, Fla. - Coast Guard crewmen don't just rescue people from open water. A swampy area of Polk County was the location of a rescue Thursday after a gyrocopter and a sheriff's office helicopter both went down.
“From the pilot's perspective, obstacles, towers, other aircraft, it's much busier over the middle of the state,” explained Lt Eric Bonomi, who piloted the Jayhawk helicopter during Thursday's rescue. “Generally, the Coast Guard's primary rescue response is is in the maritime environment, responding to individuals in the water or vessels in the water.”
FOX 13 News has learned the pilot of the gyrocopter climbed onto a skid of a Polk County sheriff’s helicopter just before it went down. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office would not comment, saying the incident is under investigation by the FAA.
The area near Fort Meade, an old Mosaic phosphate mine, was not accessible by wheeled vehicles or an airboat, so local officials called the Coast Guard.
Rescue swimmer Nathan Renshaw was lowered from the Jayhawk to perform the rescue, but the terrain was problematic.
“I immediately got swamped up to my chest and luckily the helicopter was able to pull me back up and get to a more brushy area that I could actually move around in,” Renshaw said.
He put the pilot of the gyrocopter, 56-year-old Jeffrey Wright, of Lutz, into a basket that was hoisted into the Coast Guard chopper.
They lowered the cable again and brought up the sheriff’s office pilot, Lavon Hughes.
Wright was still in Tampa General Hospital Friday afternoon, according to a TGH spokesperson.