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Coast Guard rescue swimmers show off training in Lake St. Clair

By TANDA GMITER | MLive.com | Published: November 6, 2019

DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — If you’re a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer and are looking to do a fun training exercise that also serves as team-building, what do you pick? How about jumping out of a helicopter into Lake St. Clair about 1.5 miles out, then swimming back to shore, decked out in your full gear?

That’s what a group of Aviation Survival Technicians based out of Air Station Detroit did a few weeks ago. The Coast Guard recently shared some of its photos on social media, and agreed to give our readers a peek into the experience.

The rescue swimmers do their open-water swims in Lake St. Clair because it’s not only convenient, but easy to provide boat and helicopter coverage to make sure they stay safe on the long swim back, said Lt. j.g. Matthew G. Zavalij.

“The swim itself took about 50 minutes with their full gear on,” he said of the mid-October splash-down.

“The day of the swim, the air temp was 50 degrees, water temp was 55 degrees, and about 1-2 feet of surface chop for the waves.”

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Rescue swimmers are a crucial part of the Coast Guard’s search-and-rescue work on our Great Lakes. They can descend from a rescue chopper, either landing in a lake for an open-water rescue, on a rocky slice of shoreline, or even on board a big freighter if someone needs help.

This past summer, Air Station Detroit was involved in 319 search and rescue cases. Of those, 172 resulted in launching a helicopter from Air Station Detroit or the two summer satellite air facilities located in Muskegon and Waukegan, Ill. Michigan also has another Coast Guard Air Station based in Traverse City that has handled a lot of rescues in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula in recent months.

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