This time on purpose, United States Coast Guard officers came to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday night, to say a fervent thank-you to an Island harbormaster.
He is John M. Edwards of Edgartown, and he earned the citation presented to him at a ceremony in the board room of the Co-operative Bank by delivering a Coast Guard helicopter to safety from a forced landing at night on the rip-swept open sea off the Katama beach.
Through Friday night and on into Saturday morning Mr. Edwards and two policemen who volunteered to crew with him towed the helicopter down the East Beach beyond Wasque, around the Cape Pogue lighthouse point, into Edgartown harbor, then up Katama Bay to perch, pending repairs, on the launching ramp at the foot of Town Lot Road.
Coast Guard Captain Louis Zumstien presented the citation to Mr. Edwards, and Lieut. Jack La Flamme and Lieut. Frank Cole, pilot and copilot of the disabled craft, said thanks. Among the 35 persons present for the brief, extraordinary ceremony were Lieut. Comdr. Jan Long and Capt. Cliff Dow, Division II commander of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, plus fellow members of Mr. Edwards’s in the Island’s Flotilla 1105 of the auxiliary. The Rev. Norman Brady pronounced the invocation. The officers of the Coast Guard team had flown in by helicopter from the Otis air base.
The rescue operation developed out of a search Friday night for a Bulgarian freighter that had appealed for help in removing an injured seaman to a hospital. Simultaneously, some 60 miles southwest of Nantucket, a separate Coast Guard search and rescue mission was casting about for three crew members lost from the New Bedford dragger Eugene H. in a collision with the 494-foot Liberian flag freighter Grand Justice. The search was called off Sunday. One body had been recovered. That was another story.
Circling over the darkening sea off South Beach, the search helicopter developed ignition trouble - a generator burned out, wiring shorted, and the engine failed - and, landing, began transmitting its Mayday distress signal. In the Cape Cod canal the Coast Guard vessel Point Jackson picked up the call, set out for the location of the landing, and summoned 40-foot patrol craft from the Coast Guard stations at Menemsha Creek and Nantucket.
By the time they got to the scene Mr. Edwards, who had been called by the Coast Guard station at Woods Hole, had taken the disabled bird in tow. At 12:30 a.m., five hours after he had set out, he and John Rogers, an Edgartown patrolman, and State Trooper Richard DeRoche had made the helicopter fast to a mooring near buoy No. 9 in the inner harbor. At 5:30 a.m. the helicopter was towed to the shallows off the Katama ramp, where Chief Michael D. Corbett of the Menemsha station met it with a truck and hauled it to the parking area above the ramp.
A second helicopter floated in alongside later that morning, repairs were made, and the incident ended, except for the saying of thanks, with a throbbing in the sky around noon.
The Bulgarian seaman had been taken off the freighter by yet another Coast Guard helicopter. He was flown to the Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. His arrival for treatment had been delayed by less than an hour.