Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice Brad R. Etzler of Union Bridge recently returned aboard the Coast Guard cutter Rush, based in Honolulu, concluding a three-week mission to assist 535 people stranded at sea aboard the Panamanian merchant vessel Eastwood.
The Eastwood had departed Hong Kong in late December and had taken aboard a large number of mainland Chinese who reportedly were being smuggled to the U.S. The vessel's propulsion system had failed and the lack of food, water and progress toward their destination led the smugglers to voice their dissatisfaction and the crew to fear for their well-being.
The ship's radio operator sent emergency transmissions claiming the vessel had been hijacked. When the Rush arrived, its boarding team found 135 Chinese passengers and 10 Indonesian crewmen topside and another 390 Chinese locked in the Eastwood's two cargo holds, where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.
The Rush team found that the Eastwood had only enough food for one more day and was 500 miles from the nearest safe port. After securing the Eastwood, Rush personnel made repairs to enable the ship to proceed to Kwajalein Atoll, with the Rush as an escort.
Mr. Etzler is the son of Richard V. and Glenda A. Etzler of Union Bridge. The 1992 graduate of Walkersville High School in Frederick County joined the Coast Guard in July 1992.