A Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Sitka searched the waters of Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg over the weekend after reports that a distress flare had been spotted in the area. Coast Guard spokesperson Sarah Francis says the call came in Saturday Night:
“Well the coast guard received a report of a single red parachute flare in the vicinity of Wrangell Narrows Saturday night and they launched an Air Station Sitka MH60 Jayhawk helicopter and issued an urgent marine information broadcast requesting the assistance of mariners in the area. That helicopter proceeded to the Wrangell Narrows area and conducted a search. Weather in the area was clouds and fog and there was some poor visibility preventing a good over flight search pattern. So, they remained in Petersburg and conducted a first light search with visibility improved. We ran the urgent marine broadcast overnight and didn’t receive any further reports.”
Francis says conditions were optimal for the search Sunday morning and the helicopter crew saw no signs of anyone in distress. Also, she says there were no reports of overdue vessels in the area so the helicopter eventually returned to Sitka.
Francis emphasizes that the Coast Guard takes flares and other signs of immediate distress very seriously:
“We’d like to remind folks in the area that when they are out boating as we are approaching that spring and summer boating season to be sure that they’re prepared. Make sure your flares are not expired, that you have communication devices with you. More than one is preferable. A VHF Marine Band radio is the primary communication device for the maritime community but having cell phones if you’re close to shore or a satellite phone or e-pirb (electronic position indicating radio beacon) are also good backups.”
Francis says it’s OK to fire off flares for training or testing purposes but the Coast Guard should be informed about it ahead of time. Otherwise, it could result in an emergency response and the unnecessary use of resources, like a helicopter, that might be needed elsewhere.