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Heroes Among Us: The West Coast’s oldest Coast Guard base has been saving lives for 85 years

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PORT ANGELES, Wash. - Whether it's in the sea or in the air, the U.S. Coast Guard motto is "always ready." Since 1935, Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles has served and protected all of us here in Northwest.

If you happen to be near the base, just look up, because the Coast Guard helicopters are hard to miss.

Their orange color does stand out, after all. In some ways, they are a beacon of hope for those who need help. And for those who serve in the Coast Guard, they're inspirational.

"I used to see these guys, the MH 65 fly over, growing up," said Christian Goodwin, avionics electrical technician 2nd class.

For Goodwin, being in the Coast Guard runs in the family.

"I've had a lot of family history in the Coast Guard since the mid-'30s," he said.

Joining the Coast Guard came a bit later for Lt. Darin Coleman, who grew up in landlocked Colorado.

"Aviation was something that I was really interested in, certainly going to airshows and those types of things. (The) Coast Guard, though, that came in very late in the game," he said.

Lt. Coleman described his job like this.

"You're on a 24-hour shift, kind of like a firehouse and whenever the call comes in, you do what you need to do," he said.

We asked them which rescues stood out for them this year. Both Coleman and Goodwin said it was a rescue in August near the Salt Creek Recreation Area.

A video from the hoist camera on board the MH 65 helicopter shows the harrowing rescue.

A 12-year-old boy from Spokane had visited the recreation area and was exploring the tide pools. But when the tide came in, that's when the boy got stranded with nowhere to go. He was stuck on the rocks, and if he tried to go back the way he came in, he would've been swept out to sea. The local fire department was called in, but unfortunately, they couldn't reach the boy.

That's when the Coast Guard crew came in.

"He was cold and wet, but the tide was coming in and there was a risk of him falling in the water and have the current sweep him away," said Goodwin.

Another challenge was the terrain itself.

"That`s always an unnerving thing, how far are we off of the trees and from the cliff. So avoiding any types of obstacles, that`s the big and immediate one," said Lt. Coleman.

After sending a rescue swimmer down the rocks, they attached a device around the boy, and both the child and the swimmer were hoisted up.

"We came around, landed in the park, and delivered the boy back to his parents," said Goodwin.

There have also been rescues in the dark of night, like one in August of a woman who got lost hiking near La Push. There have been rescues on boats, like one in November of a Canadian Navy Sailor who suffered a head injury that required him to be airlifted to Seattle.

"It is riskier than other jobs, but it's a job that we train for. We factor in tons of safety considerations for ourselves, for the people that we're picking up," said Goodwin.

The base in Port Angeles makes 250 to 300 rescues every year all along the Washington coast.

It is something they say they are called to do.

"It's good to just work together as a team, as an air station to get those people out of those bad situations," said Lt. Coleman.

Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles was the first permanent Coast Guard base to be built along the West Coast, back in 1935.

More than 120 active duty service members work on base.

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