U.S. Coast Guard Air Station North Bend and a host of other agencies played a vital role in the rescue of Heather Mounce Davison from a cliffside near Florence on Aug. 16 around 2 p.m. Davison sustained only minor injuries in her five days without food or water.
According to Florence’s 911 Dispatch Center, a call came in at 1:25 p.m. requesting Davison’s rescue after she had been located by her husband. From there, the call went out to local emergency response agencies, including Oregon State Police, Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, Western Lane Ambulance District, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Air Sector North Bend.
A representative from North Bend said a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was already flying north, so was able to arrive quickly at the scene. North Bend had also been part of the initial search when Davison was declared missing on Aug. 12.
A statement released by North Bend said Siuslaw Valley previously made an attempt to rescue Davison, but, due to steep terrain along the shoreline, was unsuccessful.
Siuslaw Valley Operations Chief Jim Dickerson, who acted as rescue command, said he knew they would need helicopter assistance as soon as he arrived.
“I was first on scene from the fire station, and I radioed on Coast Guard Channel 22 as soon as I analyzed the situation,” he said.
Dolphin pilot Lt. Alex Webber and copilot Lt. Justin Bunch navigated the helicopter close enough to lower rescue swimmer AST3 Tyler Stacey down by cable to hoist Davison up. Flight mechanic AET2 Cassandra Hunter operated the hoist and the helicopter’s radio.
U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Bend’s Facebook page has a video of part of the rescue, showing Stacey’s 250-300-foot drop to the brush-covered cliff where Davison had been since Saturday.
Once Stacey retrieved Davison, the pilots landed the helicopter on Highway 101, where ODOT and EMT crews from Siuslaw Valley and Western Lane Ambulance were waiting. An ambulance then transported Davison to PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center in Florence.
ODOT Public Information Officer Angela Beers Seydel said, “We worked closely with the state police, who requested that we close the road to create a landing zone for the helicopter and so the ambulance could be ready.”
ODOT maintains a Florence crew “that responds to all kinds of calls as quickly as possible,” Beers Seydel said. She said Highway 101 was closed for up to 20 minutes, as a minor fender bender required some additional work to clear the roadway.
After the rescue, the Dolphin helicopter flew to Florence Municipal Airport to refuel. While there, the four crew members told airport representatives Lou Morales, Tom Ball and Sam Spayd about the conditions of the rescue while they enjoyed the airport’s complimentary coffee. As the story goes, the crew was in the first hour of a 24-hour shift, and had already completed a water rescue before coming to Davison’s aid.
“The pilot had to work really hard to position the helicopter in all that wind,” Ball said. “It was 36 miles per hour, and the one who got lowered to the woman said it was incredibly loud.”
Ball also said that noise may have been a factor in the delay of Davison’s rescue; efforts to find her centered near where she had parked her car near milepost 180 on Highway 101. Davison was found on a cliff in the vicinity, off milepost 181.
Florence Police Commander John Pitcher said, “Those who watched the rescue kept saying how amazing the pilot had to be with all that wind blowing. They did an outstanding job.”
“I have utmost respect for Lt. Webber and Lt. Bunch for flying the helicopter as they did,” he said. “The high winds were still considered a flyable condition, but it took courage and honor for all four to perform their duty.”
During the rescue, Siuslaw Valley Chief Director Jim Langborg was incident command and Western Lane Operations Chief Matt House was EMS command, forming a unified command.
Dickinson said, “This was not possible without the coordinated effort of all on the scene. We assisted each other with our assets and were able to save (Davison’s) life.”
Appropriately, the City of Florence was honoring the U.S. Coast Guard and its local station, Station Siuslaw River earlier that day as Florence became an official Coast Guard City.