Kevin Morrison, in back with blue helmet, is shown, as he and another rescue swimmer brought a survivor, facing camera, inside the rescue helicopter during a rescue in the Shelikof Strait. The survivor was covered in ice, as was the helicopter floor.
When it comes to rescues, Kevin Morrison says he's done almost everything but pick up a dead person. So when he and his fellow Coast Guard rescuers flew out in subzero temperatures on a frigid January morning to pick up the survivors of a sunken fishing boat in Shelikof Strait, Morrison was happy to see them all alive.
"The first person that came up, he was hypothermic to the point that he was almost dead," Morrison said. "All I can remember during the entire (rescue) was the guy sitting there staring at me. That picture is stuck in my head, sitting there and looking at somebody who's barely hanging on and you just saved his life."
Morrison, who graduated from Soldotna High School in 1999, started his career in the U.S. Coast Guard with a desire to work with boats and travel. Now, stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station on Kodiak Island with his wife, Heidi, and 10-month-old daughter, Meriedi, Morrison's interest is in helicopters and flying.
As a quality insurance inspector and flight mechanic, he mans the hoists that lowers rescue swimmers into and out of the frozen North Pacific.
"I've hoisted from submarines (and) medevacs," Morrison said. "I've picked up injured people on boat fires. We actually got to watch a plane crash a couple of years ago."
Morrison and the rest of the search and rescue team were awarded the prestigous Air Medal for their role in January's rescue. He doesn't have a mantra or personal ritual that gears him up for the rescues he participates in but said it's up to everyone on duty to make sure their gear and aircraft is ready.
"Once the search and rescue alarm goes off, we have 30 minutes to be airborne," he said. "Once you get the call, that's not the time to be getting your gear."
The Coast Guard's rescue missions were spotlighted in the 2006 film '"The Guardian," starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. Morrison himself made a brief appearance on the silver screen toward the end.
"The film crew came to Kodiak and said, 'Can we work with you guys?' and to get some footage, and I volunteered," he said, adding he met the film crew, but not the actors. "In the very last rescue scene, that was me doing the hoisting."
Morrison's wife said he isn't the type who seeks the spotlight, adding that probably the reason he did it was because he was on duty at the time.
"I just think it's funny," Heidi said. "He wasn't out to be part of the movie."
Morrison said for the most part, the film portrayed life as a Coast Guard search and rescue accurately, but he was still able to point out some inconsistencies your average movie-goer might miss.
"The biggest thing was some of the procedures they showed was not as accurate as they could be," he said, adding the film also portrayed the simple act of communicating in a helicopter wrong.
"In the movie they show people just looking at each other and talking. All of our talking is done through an intercommunication system in our helmets."
Heidi said she thinks it's good a movie was made about the Coast Guard and enjoys watching it with their friends.
"You can kind of laugh at it a little bit for entertainment value," she said. "All of our friends ask, 'Is this how it is?' It's something that other people can see and relate to easier, and they always ask about it."
Morrison plans to continue to stay with the Coast Guard and pursue a career as a pilot.
"It looks like it would be a lot of fun," he said.
Heidi, who wants to find a place to settle down near her family, said she and her husband would like to end up in Sterling, but she's not sure where the Coast Guard will take them.
"I'm looking forward to trying out some select places in the Coast Guard," she said. "I'm sure we'll get a couple we won't consider desirable. We'll see what's out there."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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