Thursday, January 15, 2009
Mike Hanna spotted trouble as he panned across the roiling water near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. A capsized boat. A cooler. A canteen. Lifejackets with no one in them. Two Arizona men, who had come with four others to fish for stripers, died Tuesday morning when their 18-foot boat overturned and dumped them into 45-degree water, police said. But Hanna, manager of the Maryland Pilots Association Cape Henry station, and other rescuers saved four men. Coast Guard watchstanders heard the first beckon for help at 9 a.m.: ''Mayday, mayday.'' The boaters from Arizona either didn't know how to pinpoint their location or didn't have time. But the Coast Guard cross-checked the signal from several rescue towers and dispatched a crew from Little Creek. Petty Officer Robert Polson soon saw the capsized boat, then a man, half in and half out of the water, clinging to the engine. Two Maryland Pilots launch captains saw a Coast Guard rescue helicopter hovering and a swimmer in the water, hoisting people into a basket. Matthew Bailey and Reed Sutherland could see three people clinging to the side of the overturned fishing boat. They found one man floating about 100 yards from the overturned boat and pulled him onboard with them. Hanna, in another pilot launch boat, saw two other men in camouflage gear, but without life jackets, floating face down. Rescuers knew they didn't have much time: In 45-degree seas, hypothermia would set in and a person would be unconscious in 30 minutes to an hour. About a half-hour after the mayday call, Virginia Beach Fire Capt. Billy Burket was driving over the Lesner Bridge and saw a hovering helicopter and a Virginia Pilot boat. Burket, a member of the department's marine team, was headed to Ocean City, Md., to conduct a seminar on cold water survival. His cell phone rang. It was the pilot tower: ''Bill, we have six people in the water here.''Burket turned around, hopped on a pilot boat and headed for the scene, where they pulled alongside another Virginia pilot boat. ''We got two patients on here,'' they called over. Burket jumped to the other boat. One man was in cardiac arrest, and the second had hypothermia. Burket thought the victim's heart could fail at any minute. He asked the man his name, but got no answer. ''Let's get this boat in,'' he told the pilot boat captain, and they headed for awaiting medical help. As rescuers worked, their boats bobbed in 3- to-5-foot waves and 20- to 25-knot winds whipping near-freezing air. Burket said the fingers of men performing CPR went numb within 10 minutes. By then, the Coast Guard's rescue swimmer, Petty Officer Drew Dazzo, had hoisted two people into the helicopter and made sure four others were on rescue boats. Allen Dedrick, 69, and Ned Rokey, 89, died in the accident. Coast Guard Lt. Kevin Saunders said none of the men were wearing life jackets or immersion suits, which are recommended if there's a chance of being exposed to cold water. The fishermen apparently made a habit of hauling their boat all the way from Arizona to fish for striped bass at this time of year. Recently, the director's office at the Virginia Beach Department of Parks and Recreation had received a letter from Ric Rokey, of Mesa, Ariz. Rokey wanted ''to send along an Atta-Boy'' to the men who run the Lynnhaven boat ramp. ''For the past five years we have been making the long drive ... to your city,'' Rokey wrote. ''We arrive in early December to chase stripers for a week ... then store the boat and truck ... and fly home for Christmas. We then fly back to Virginia Beach for another week of fishing ... '' Rokey said one man at the marina takes photos of them boarding their boat in the morning, then leaves the pictures on their car windshield. ''That is just one example,'' he wrote, ''of how ALL of those guys act when we 'Zonies' arrive at the ramp.''