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Off-duty Coast Guard members aid injured boaters near Madeline Island

CLEVELAND - An off-duty Coast Guard petty officer and a Coast Guard Auxiliarist boating on Lake Superior Friday evening assisted three people, two of whom were injured, after hearing a distress call following a boating accident near Madeline Island, Wis.

A watchstander at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. received notification from the Bayfield, Wisconsin Fire Department around 8 p.m. that a 24-foot pleasure craft had suffered a steering malfunction that caused a sudden turn. Two of three passengers onboard -- a 5-year-old boy and his grandmother -- had been injured in the accident, and the boat was adrift near La Pointe, Madeline Island.

While the fire department was hailing the Coast Guard by VHF marine radio, off-duty Petty Officer 2ndClass Justin Harris, who was boating with his family and Coast Guard Auxiliarist Dick Carver, on Carver’s vessel, overheard the radio call. Harris and Carver realized they were near the distressed boaters, so Harris contacted Sector Sault Ste. Marie by radio to see if he could assist. He was directed to the location of the damaged vessel.

Harris arrived moments later and determined that the 5-year-old boy, who had a four-inch wound on the top of his head, was in the most immediate need of medical attention. Using the first-aid kit on Carver's boat, Harris dressed the boy’s wound.

“I realized that with such a large wound, the child was probably tossed pretty hard on the boat,” Harris said. Harris also took precautions to protect the boy's neck in case it had been injured when he was thrown about on the vessel.

In the meantime, Sector Sault Ste. Marie had launched a 45-foot response boat, with a local EMT aboard, from Coast Guard Station Bayfield. After arriving, the EMT determined the boy needed immediate medical attention and placed him on a medical backboard to immobilize his neck. Both the boy and his grandmother were transported aboard the response boat to a local ambulance, which transported them to Ashland Memorial Hospital.

"Harris and Carver were off-duty, but they both knew they had the skills and equipment to help the injured boaters and they didn't hesitate," said Cmdr. Nathan Podoll, Director of Auxiliary for the Ninth District. "This case is a great example of the dedication of the entire Coast Guard team."