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Grants Pass man a Star rescuer

Lt. Prescott Trent Fuller of Grants Pass serves on the nation's most powerful icebreaker, the 399-foot-long Polar Star.

And the crew of an Australian fishing boat called the Antarctic Chieftain were certainly glad the U.S. Coast Guard behemoth was in the same hemisphere earlier this month.

The Polar Star, powered by 16 diesel engines generating 75,000 horsepower, blasted through over 100 miles of ice up to 15 feet thick before reaching the stricken vessel and towing it to safety.

The Polar Star received a distress call shortly after finishing its icebreaking duties at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, hub of U.S. scientific activity in Antarctica.

Fuller, a 2009 Grants Pass High grad, and the other 149 crew members, endured heavy seas, ice, snow and wind.

Fuller is an engineer who oversees engines, electrical and other systems on the Seattle-based ship, said his father Steve Fuller, a fifth-grade teacher at Redwood Elementary. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., in 2013.

It was his second trip to Antarctica since being assigned to the Polar Star. The big icebreaker normally doesn't do rescues. But it was close enough to help.

"The situation was dire," said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy, who told CNN the 207-foot Chieftain and at least some of its 27 crew faced the prospect of having to winter in the ice.

"The seas of Antarctica are treacherous and unforgiving," Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of U.S. Coast Guard operations in the Pacific, said in a press release. "This incident is a sobering reminder of the importance of the U.S. icebreaker fleet as we see increased human activity in the polar regions."

Because the Australian vessel had damaged three of its four propeller blades, it had to be towed through about 60 miles of sea ice into open water, breaking the tow rope three times. Once in open water, the ship was able to maneuver under its own power, and headed to New Zealand escorted by another fishing vessel.

"There were some very happy sailors aboard Antarctic Chieftain upon our arrival," said Capt. Matthew Walker, commander of the Polar Star.

Steve Fuller said his son talked to him and wife Robin briefly on satellite phone after the rescue, and they can communicate via email and Facebook.

Via email, the young lieutenant described the power of the Polar Star:

"The hull is 4 inches thick solid steel and is designed so that it has a pointed bow to split ice as we break it. When backing and ramming, the flat hull behind the bow is used to crush the ice with the weight of the ship. The POLAR STAR is the most powerful non-nuclear icebreaker in the world and continues to hold that title nearly 40 years after she was commissioned in 1976.

"In this situation the Polar Star happened to be in the right place at the right time. I feel privileged to be able to help the Antarctic Chieftain with the rest of Polar Star's crew."

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com

The Polar Star is the nation's only heavy icebreaker capable of operating in thick Antarctic ice. Photo Courtesy TRENT FULLER
Lt. Prescott Trent Fuller