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Detroit Coast Guard officer awarded for dramatic lifesaving hurricane rescues

By JUSTINE LOFTON | MLive.com | Published: March 5, 2020

DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Coast Guard officer was awarded this week for saving two people from rushing flood waters during Hurricane Florence.

Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Bondira, stationed at US Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, was presented with an Air Medal for his actions during Hurricane Florence rescues from Sept. 14-18, 2018, including emergency lifesaving efforts, according to a news release.

During the hurricane, Bondira and his MH-65D helicopter crew faced life-threatening weather that caused extensive damage, record flooding, and the evacuation of 1.5 million people from the East Coast.

Bondira was leading his crew in the evacuation of a stroke victim when, during the return journey, he noticed a man “desperately clinging to a tree in swift water,” the release said. The team’s rescue swimmer was lowered from the helicopter and almost immediately knocked down by the raging water. At that point, the swimmer was unable to communicate with the crew. Bondira’s expert airmanship allowed the swimmer to stabilize and float downstream to the victim.

Bondira was flying within feet of trees when the cable connected to the swimmer became tangle in branches. He was able to maneuver the helicopter to unsnarl the line. He then executed an emergency pickup of the victim and rescue swimmer.

“Bondira’s skill and actions during the response to Hurricane Florence saved two lives,” the release said. “Bravo Zulu, (Lt. Cmdr.) Bondira!”

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