TRAVERSE CITY — Coast Guard AST1 Jodi Williams lost count of the number of swimming rescues she’s done, but her first is still among the most memorable.
It occurred about 2 a.m. during a 2004 storm in the Channel Islands off Los Angeles. Three men had run aground in a storm on rocks at the base of a cliff.
As the helicopter hovered over the rescue site, Williams, then 21, looked down at the cold, dark sea. Whitecaps foamed in 15-foot waves. She clipped herself to the drop line. A down draft from the cliff prevented the chopper from setting her down next to the boat, so she was hoisted to an outcropping about 15 yards away.
She flashed her light toward the grounded boat and saw a big hole in its hull and the two brothers. One with a broken leg sat on the wreck.
"That’s when I had my ‘Ta-Dah, Here Comes the Coast Guard Moment’ ” she said.
Williams resolutely strode to the boat, not watching her feet. She stepped in a hole.
“And I fell flat on my face, she said, laughing.
So much for Ta-Dah moments.
The men were brothers. They told her they and their father had washed off the boat in the storm and waves pushed him into a nearby cave. She found and rescued the father after several tense moments.
Williams, now 32, is one of four women in the Guard’s 300 cadre of rescue swimmers at 23 air stations around the nation. She also is one of the 12 rescue swimmers serving at Coast Guard Air Station.
Williams couldn’t swim when she joined the Coast Guard in 1999 right after high school. Now in the 14th year of her Coast Guard career, she initially trained and served as a dental technician at Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico.