Nightly News   |  June 22, 2013

Crews recall heroic rescue during Sandy

When Coast Guard air crews responded to the sinking of a vintage sailing vessel off the North Carolina coast last October, they faced unimaginable conditions, as they saved more than a dozen people. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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>>> a follow up to a story of extraordinary during sandy. they faced unimaginable conditions as they saved more than a dozen people. with a new summer storm season upon us , we recently caught up with some of those who were in the thick of it to learn what it took. dawn was just breaking, 90 miles off the north carolina coast as many as 16 crew from the sunken hms bounty were in the water or on life rafts.

>> it was pretty bad out there. the raft was being tossed around.

>> reporter: here on the outer edges of super storm sandy wind were blowing at 60 miles per hour, waves were two stories high.

>> 40 to 60 seconds .

>> reporter: and coast guard rescue swimmers were right in the teeth of it.

>> being down there in the waves is more like beingen a washing machine.

>> reporter: just hours after the mission back in october, rescue swimmer , daniel todd told me how he tried to calm the survivors.

>> i pretty much hopped in, i said, hey, i'm dan. heard you guys need a ride. need some help. there was the juggle between them as well.

>> reporter: the survivor, doug fott was the second to be rescued that day.

>> they did an amazing job. they were calm. they had it together. like angels come from above to save us . rip to get a better measure of the selfless heroes we returned to coast guard air station elizabeth city where every week they respond to calls. we joined a training mission, crewed by veterans of the boundy rescue. it is a virtual wave top symphony of coordination between the pilots, the flight mek canic who mans the hoist, and the rescue swimmer who will lead the s survivor to safety. the rescue swimmers considered among the coast guard 's most elite.

>> once the swimmer is in the water radio communication become difficult because of the noise, ocean and the chopper. he will use hand signals to describe what he is up against.

>> reporter: to confidently make this leap into danger in even the most dire conditions it takes months in what is the military's most grueling training programs. what it took for rescue swimmers like randy haba and daniel todd to put themselves into the storm-tossed sea last fall they learned in a pool at a school so demanding entire classes have been known to call it quits.

>> do it right!

>> reporter: a place where trainees make the commitment to put the lives of others first.

>> i could easily have died then and -- and i didn't. and i have this life now. i have more life. and i'm going to take full advantage of it.

>> in fact the rescue swimmers motto is "so that others may live." tomorrow on nightly news we'll go inside the grueling training program that physically and mentally makes or break those who want to swim into troubled waters .