The U.S. Coast Guard Columbia River Sector

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector Columbia River conducts training with a Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew on the Columbia River in Ilwaco, Washington, Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2021. The boat and air units often train together to stay proficient in joint rescue techniques.

The Coast Guard Air Station Astoria (Warrenton) was established August 14, 1964 at Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton, Oregon. The unit houses 450 Active Duty, 80 Reserve, 25 Civilian, and 270 Auxiliary members.

For Lieutenant Commander Andrew Jarolimek, a pilot for the Coast Guard in Astoria, his work is rarely, if ever, dull.

Since the start of this year, Sector Columbia River units have responded to more than 170 distress calls, saved 37 lives and assisted 218 lives. Additionally, since mid-May, their crews have saved nearly $3 million ($2,670,700) in property from being destroyed or lost to the sea.

That’s a regular year for Jarolimek.

“We are a response team for the search and rescue from the Queets River to Pacific City. We can cover up into Port Angeles and also down to Newport,” Jarolimek explained. “If anything is long distance and long range, we can take it.”

He’s been in the service for 13 years and joined the Columbia River Sector in 2018, but Jarolimek said he’ll be sad to ever leave the coast. “This is a very desirable unit for pilots and air carriers. You have a small unit and there’s a great mix of terrain.”

Coast Guard crews stand 24 hour duties, four to six times a month. The remainder of their time is spent training and performing external missions, which can range from running public affairs to assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The weather and surf conditions along the coast and Columbia River can be treacherous, Jarolimek said, Which is why the National Motor Lifeboat School, where their service’s expert boat drivers are trained, is right here near the mouth of the Columbia River.

“Our command center overlooks the world famous Columbia River Bar and ‘Graveyard of the Pacific,’” Public Affairs Detachment for Astoria Cynthia Oldham explained. “This area is regarded as one of the most treacherous river bars in the world. Because of the large number of shipwrecks near the river entrance it is often called ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific.’ During winter storms, wind-driven ocean swells often reach a height of 20-30 feet at the entrance of the bar. With the culmination of strong outgoing tides and large incoming swells, large surf conditions can exist in and around the bar entrance.”

And now that Oregon is reopened and weather temperatures are spiking, “unfortunately, there have been an uptick [in drownings]  just as people have been on the coast,” Jarolimek said.

The Sector’s missions typically include rescuing boaters, swimmers, and hikers along the river and coast.

“Just this weekend we had a lot of people wanting to get outside and had back to back rescues on saddle mountain,” Jarolimek in early May. That weekend, Jarolimek and his crew helped rescue two hikers who injured themselves on Saddle Mountain and five surfers who got stranded on a rock at Short Sands Beach.

Jarolimek’s job as a pilot is to provide eyes on the situation—from 500 feet up. Aside from rescue missions, the Sector is charged with patrolling up and down the Columbia River, inspecting boats and ships.

“We do a lot of inspection work,” Jarolimek said. “Just because there is a lot of transit traffic through there.”

With the aid of the Air Station/Sector in Warrenton, a Marine Safety Unit in Portland, two Aids to Navigation teams, the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell which is a patrol boat in Portland, and four coastal stations in Portland, Cape Disappointment, Greys Harbor and Tillamook; the Columbia River Sector ensures Maritime Safety, Security, and Environmental Protection along 420 miles of coastal Oregon and southern Washington, and for the 33 ports along the 465 miles of the Columbia, Snake, and Willamette River systems extending from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho, according to Oldham.

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