'It Was Incredible': Pinecrest Graduate Part of Dramatic Rescue Mission
At 5 a.m. Monday, Kathy Fields got a text from her daughter, Jenny. The message was short, sweet and familiar.
"It said, 'I love you, with a smiley face," Fields said, "and I guessed she got called out."
Jenny Fields, 26, was part of a U.S. Coast Guard team stationed in Elizabeth City that rescued 14 of 16 people from life rafts off the North Carolina coast after they had abandoned the replica tall ship HMS Bounty early that morning. One person died and another, the captain, remained missing Tuesday evening.
The 2004 graduate of Pinecrest High School was the co-pilot on the second helicopter that saved nine people.
Jenny sends a similar message to her mom each time she is called out on a rescue mission.
Later Monday afternoon, Jenny called her mom and delivered another short message.
"She said, 'Mom, it was incredible. We saved nine people. I'll call you later,'" Kathy Fields said.
Kathy and her husband, Mack, live in Pinehurst and own and operate Fields Plumbing.
According to media reports, the Bounty lost power late Sunday and began taking on water. The ship's owner alerted the Coast Guard, which sent a C-130 to establish contact with the ship before a rescue mission was to begin at first light.
By 4:30 a.m., the crew abandoned ship, climbing into two lifeboats.
Jenny Fields was on call that morning when she received a 4 a.m. call saying that there was a vessel in distress with 16 people on board. By 7:15, her helicopter crew was on scene.
Reports indicate the ship, a 180-foot, three-mast vessel, was on its side in the ocean, 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras as winds whipped at more than 60 mph, and the water churned and rolled to heights of 30 feet in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The replica ship was built in 1960 for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty," starring Marlon Brando and depicting the famous 1798 mutiny. It was also featured in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
For Fields, who graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2008, the rescue mission was different than any other one she had been part of.
"As soon as we crossed the Outer Banks and saw the magnitude of the waves, you think, 'This is it,'" she said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. "The reality of the situation slaps you in the face. Not to be cliche, but it's like you're the rookie and this is the Super Bowl."
Fields, a self-described "goofball" who says she has always been a "calm, quiet" person seeking to avoid the spotlight, said that when her team arrived on scene, her emotions were roiling inside.
"Inside, I'm like, holy crap," she said. "But there was never a point I thought we weren't coming home. I have great confidence in my team and the entire Coast Guard. This wasn't just about us. There were a lot of people that made it happen."
Kathy Fields said her daughter has always been a team player, and that swimming and playing soccer at Pinecrest and on local travel teams fueled her daughter.
"She's always been calm, focused and clear-thinking in an emergency situations," Kathy Fields said. "She has the ability to see clearly through the fog."
Mack Fields, who watched his daughter be interviewed on television Tuesday by Matt Lauer of the "Today Show," said Jenny has always had a love for mechanical things.
"I used to take her on calls with me, and she would do things around the office," Fields said of his daughter. "And she loved anything to do with cars."
Jenny Fields said the strong military presence in her family and here in Moore County was a strong pull that led her to the Coast Guard.
"The military always appealed to me," she said.
She said she enjoys being a pilot because of the hands-on nature of the job and the validation she gets from helping others.
"I get to be able to turn around and see the people I just saved," she said. "To be able to turn around and give a breath mint to someone I just saved so they don't have to taste their own vomit, that is something that I need."
She thanked all those in Moore County, friends, family, teachers and other community members who helped shape her life.
"I still think about all of them," she said. "You still remember the people who helped you out, who made a difference."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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