Following the rescue of two 14-year-old girls near Winnetka on Monday, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) renewed their call to keep the U.S. Coast Guard's helicopter facility in Waukegan open. The two teens had been thrown from a jet ski and were stranded for about an hour before a Waukegan-based Coast Guard helicopter spotted them and a Wilmette-based Coast Guard rescue boat brought them to shore. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration called for the closure of the Waukegan facility in its 2013 budget request.
"This incident highlights the essential services Coast Guard helicopters provide for the thousands of Illinois residents who swim and boat in Lake Michigan," said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk. "The two rescued girls already were suffering from hypothermia when they were rescued. The Administration's plan to close Waukegan and instead dispatch helicopters from northern Michigan creates a dangerous time delay for similar search and rescue missions. It is essential that we maintain the Coast Guard's seasonal air facilities, such as those in Waukegan and Muskegon, so that they can continue to save lives."
"The events of this past weekend further illustrate the critical role the Waukegan Coast Guard helicopter plays in saving lives by executing timely search and rescue missions on Lake Michigan," said Rep. Dold. "The Coast Guard's misguided plan to significantly increase air support response times that I highlighted at my recent press event pose a real threat to the safety of those who use Lake Michigan. I remain committed to ensuring these facilities remain open and operational in the future."
On May 22, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on a Department of Homeland Security funding measure that included language denying the President's 2013 budget request to close seasonal Coast Guard air facilities in Waukegan, Ill and Muskegon, Mich. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to deny the
Administration's budget request because it would have increased Coast guard air rescue response times to southern Lake Michigan from the current 14 minutes to one hour and 21 minutes by placing the nearest Coast Guard helicopter in Traverse City, Michigan.
The helicopters used by the Coast Guard at the air facilities in Waukegan and Muskegon have consistently contributed to operations similar to yesterday's incident that result in saved lives. In May 2008, AIRFAC Waukegan saved seven individuals when a 36-foot charter boat, the Fin Seeker, sank more than three miles off the coast. Since 2005, the Waukegan air facility participated in operations saving or assisting a total of 14 lives. The Muskegon air facility has assisted or saved 28 lives since 2004.