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U.S. Naval Aircrewman Aids in Water Rescue Effort While Off-Duty

17 May 2021

From Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Eshleman, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 (HSC 3)

SAN DIEGO – Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) Petty Officer First Class Cale Foy, assigned to the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, was among the first rescuers on the scene aiding over 30 passengers who were tossed into the ocean after the boat transporting them capsized near the rocky shoreline by Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego on May 2.

Foy is a Fleet Replacement Aircrew (FRAC) instructor, guiding and qualifying prospective Aircrewman as they navigate the rigorous training program to earn their Naval Aircrewman “NAC” qualification. He deftly utilized the SAR training conventions he has drilled, qualified for, employed in real-time and now teaches.

“I just took the training that I had received over the years and the experience that I’ve had during rescues, and just applied it,” said Foy.


However, the events that unfolded on May 2, 2021, were far different than the rescue training Foy had experienced. That day, he had been accompanied to the tidal pools with his wife and three children; and when they came upon the disaster, Foy knew he had to act.

“I knew my family was there, but I didn’t have the time to think about how they were feeling while people were just out there in distress,” said Foy. “I knew that they were safe, I knew that they would remain on the cliff edge – they would probably get a pretty cool feel for what Daddy does for his job.”

After a half-mile run on a cliff line beach trail, Foy swam for nearly 200 yards through violent surf. He paused for a moment of rest having another 50-100 to go before he reached a slightly buoyant mass of wreckage and the panicked people thrashing in the water. It wasn’t the first time, and wouldn’t be the last time that morning he considered ditching his now water-logged hiking boots. His seventeen years of conditioning as a U.S. Navy search-and-rescue (SAR) swimmer taught him to leave them on, as he recalled the jagged, unforgiving shoreline he and a companion rescuer had charged through.

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210503-N-EV253-1061 SAN DIEGO (May 3, 2021) – Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Cale Foy, from Palmetto, Florida, and assigned to the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, prepares his search and rescue gear during preflight operations on Naval Air Station North Island. Foy provided aid during a water rescue effort while he was in an off-duty status to more than 30 civilian passengers after the boat carrying them capsized on the rocky shoreline near Cabrillo National Monument May 2. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman)
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210503-N-EV253-1061
210503-N-EV253-1061 SAN DIEGO (May 3, 2021) – Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Cale Foy, from Palmetto, Florida, and assigned to the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, prepares his search and rescue gear during preflight operations on Naval Air Station North Island. Foy provided aid during a water rescue effort while he was in an off-duty status to more than 30 civilian passengers after the boat carrying them capsized on the rocky shoreline near Cabrillo National Monument May 2. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman)
Photo By: Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Eshleman
VIRIN: 210503-N-EV253-1061
The rip current he found himself in was causing what SAR swimmers refer to as a “washing machine effect.” His breath was already steadying as he turned to his companion, another off-duty U.S. Navy Sailor who had also been visiting the tidal pools in Point Loma that morning, and established a “game plan” to guide the distressed passengers to safety.

For Foy, it was muscle memory as he grabbed life preservers or clothing from behind on the struggling individuals – a move that would allow him to maintain control of panicked victims, who tend to clutch onto their rescuers rigidly, not wanting to let go and ultimately compromising the rescuer. He worked quickly to pull people onto a large piece of the ship’s cabin that was still above water. Though largely submerged, the victims could safely cling to the mass until rescue boats were able to pluck them from the churning waters.

During a lull in the rescue effort, Foy was able to reconnect with his family, and he sent them home when they were assured he was safe. Though they understood their father’s job, they had never seen him work before. He recalled how his wife, to whom he has been married for several years, was familiar with the routine of active duty rigor and – while experiencing a healthy amount of concern – she remained calm so that she could comfort the kids.

“What they saw that day is probably something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” said Foy. “And the fact that my kids were right there watching while Dad’s doing his job, doing what he loves to do – I’m pretty sure it’s a good feeling for them.”

Foy remained on the scene at the pier for another two hours, standing by to provide any medical care he could as the rescue effort continued.

Capt. William Eastham, HSC-3’s commanding officer said, “Though we are truly sorry for the dire circumstances surrounding the events on May 2, I can say that there could not have been a better person on the scene than a seasoned Naval Aircrewman just like AWS1 Foy. HSC-3 and all of Naval Aviation are very proud of him.”

Originally from Palmetto, Florida, Foy attributes his water comfortability to the childhood he spent where he “grew up on the water.” On the Friday morning before the incident, he had donned his dress whites to speak at a FRAC (Fleet Replacement Aircrew) graduation ceremony, commemorating the eight Aircrew candidates, and former students of his, upon their successful completion of the course. Two days later, Foy would find himself in a real-time scenario – the very kind for which he had been preparing eight Sailors who were at the beginning of their careers.

“Right place, right time, right Naval Aircrewman,” said Eastham. “He is a seasoned professional, through and through, which is just part of what makes him such an outstanding instructor and operator for us. This was a one-of-a-kind off-duty rescue, and thinking about the conditions he encountered without any of his prototypical SAR gear – in just a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and hiking boots – it really ups the ante. Courageous and immediate action to be sure. The Naval Aircrewman motto, ‘So others may live,’ never felt as true as it does today and AWS1 Foy’s actions certainly embodied just that.”

“It was just the right place, right time and I happened to be there,” said Foy. “Emotions aside, you’ve got to be able to do what you’re prepared to do.”

“The scope of what happened hasn’t hit me yet,” said Foy, who is settling back into his routine at HSC-3 despite the requests for interviews from various media entities. “It’s so busy. It’s overwhelming right now, so it’s hard to find the time to think about what happened, but I’m sure that day will come when I realize the things that I saw and the things that could have happened, it will kind of set in, and yeah – it’ll probably be a sad day, but I’ve got people to talk to. I think talking through it is probably one of the keys.”

HSC squadrons deploy expeditionary helicopter detachments to carry out naval special warfare, search and rescue, theater security cooperation, strike coordination and reconnaissance, anti-surface warfare, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief missions.

 

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