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Thursday, February 27, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Volunteers To Be Hailed For Rescue

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Dawn was finally breaking when a helicopter dropped Lee Fuller down onto the windswept rock that is James Island.

The job: get 19-year-old Benjamin Wingo out of there alive - and see if his crew mates had survived.

Fuller, a 61-year-old retired schoolteacher from Forks, rappelled down the steep clay slope in lashing winds and spray. Waiting halfway up the slope was Coast Guard Seaman Apprentice Wingo, who had scrambled away from the deadly surf and giant tree trunks smashing against the rocks below. Down the shore in the cove lay a crushed Coast Guard rescue boat and the bodies of two of Wingo's crew mates.

"Trust in God," Fuller said today, prevented him from clutching up. "I had a lot of people praying for me."

Fuller and 11 other Clallam County volunteer rescue workers will gather in Port Angeles tomorrow to accept the Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award for their efforts to save the Coast Guard rescue crew, whose boat capsized Feb. 12 in an effort to save two sailors in distress in high seas off the coast of La Push. The 12 civilian rescuers - among them schoolteachers, construction workers and homemakers from Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks - say they were just doing their job.

But Clallam County Sheriff's Sgt. Don Kelly described the mission as "probably our worst."

"We had just worked with these guys a week before," he said, referring to a joint effort to find a Quileute tribal member who'd drowned while fishing in the river.

"We're all in the same business," he added. "You never think of this kind of thing happening. The rescuers out rescuing the rescuers. It's not supposed to happen."

Search-and-rescue team leader David Tate, a 29-year-old Port Angeles construction worker, said his team had been on more technically challenging missions, but that this one was particularly tough on the volunteers.

"I thought from the beginning that if anybody had a chance in the water the Coast Guard personnel would, because they're so well-prepared," Tate said.

All three of Wingo's crew mates on the rescue boat were killed: Petty Officer 2nd Class David Bosley, 36; Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Schlimme, 24, and Seaman Clinton Miniken, 22.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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