OCEAN CITY — The Coast Guard and several Good Samaritans were kept busy this week with two separate incidents of boats in distress dozens of miles offshore including a 38-foot vessel that sank last Saturday.
Around 10:30 a.m. last Saturday, the Coast Guard received a radio call from a boat carrying nine people, which reported the vessel was taking on water about 46 miles offshore. A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules air crew from North Carolina was in the general area assisting with another disabled vessel when the request for help was received.
The 38-foot boat sank about a half an hour later at 11 a.m. The Coast Guard coordinated with two Good Samaritan vessels in the area on the rescue of the nine people in the water 46 miles offshore. Many of the people rescued by the Coast Guard and the assisting private boats were showing signs of medical distress. A 47-foot Coast Guard motor life boat crew brought all nine victims back to Station Ocean City to waiting emergency medical services. The names and conditions of the victim, and the name of the vessel that sank, have not been made public.
On Monday, another incident involving a vessel in distress unfolded. Around 12:15 p.m., the 27-foot pleasure boat “Last One” radioed the Coast Guard it was taking on water after its anchor damaged the hull around 25 miles southeast of Ocean City. The Coast Guard immediately issued an urgent broadcast and dispatched a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and rescue crew from Air Station Atlantic City and the 47-foot motor life boat crew from Station Ocean City.
Meanwhile, three crewmembers on the “Lil Angler II” heard the distress call and the conversation on the radio and plotted the distressed vessel’s position in relation to their own position. The “Lil Angler II” was heading to shore from an overnight trip and determined it was about 25 miles southeast from the position reported by the “Last One.”
Captain Brian Wazlavek was at the helm of the “Lil Angler II” and the crew faced a decision of whether to turn back toward the distressed vessel at least an hour away in the opposite direction. Wazlavek said this week the decision was an easy one when he listened to the conversations between the “Last One” crew and the Coast Guard.
“At first, they seemed pretty calm and it didn’t seem like they were too distressed,” he said. “But through each conversation over the radio, we could tell by their voices they were becoming more and more panicked. You could here they were really in trouble.”
The “Lil Angler II” turned about and chugged toward the distressed vessel. When they plotted the last known position again, they realized they were now just about 10 miles away and reached the “Last One” in about 25 minutes. Wazlavek said when they reached the “Last One,” the ocean was washing over the brackets that support the outboard motors and the bow was sitting low in the water.
The “Lil Angler II” attempted to pull close to the distressed vessel to pass over a hand bilge pump, but conditions prevented it from getting too close. Ultimately, the “Lil Angler II” was able to get the hand pump to the crew on the “Last One,” and they immediately began to remove the water. Meanwhile, the “Lil Angler II” crew stayed in contact with the Coast Guard and set off an orange smoke signal to better mark the position.
The Coast Guard helicopter arrived and dropped a rescue swimmer into the ocean nearby who was able to get aboard the “Last One” and assist the fatigued crew. The Coast Guard also dropped an automated pump that expedited the dewatering of the distressed vessel.
Wazlavek said the hand pumping likely bought the “Last One” crew some valuable time until the Coast Guard arrived on the scene.
“I’m not sure how much of an actual difference we made in terms of preventing the boat from sinking, but we definitely made a psychological difference,” he said. “They were clearly relieved when we made it to them and got the pump to them. I think it lifted their spirits just seeing us arrive.”
The Coast Guard rescue boat arrived and relieved the rescue swimmer, who was picked up by the helicopter. The Coast Guard put one of its crewmembers on board to assist with the pumping and escorted the vessel back to the West Ocean City commercial harbor. Coast Guard officials praised the quick response by the “Lil Angler II” and its assistance with the rescue.
“The crew of the Good Samaritan boat made this one of the easiest cases I have worked,” said Lt. Joseph Heal, the pilot of the helicopter. “They lent their hand pump to the sinking vessel, provided updated position reports and popped an emergency smoke signal, which allowed us to locate the sinking vessel quickly and provide immediate assistance. If they had not been there, we could have been searching a large area for three people in the water.”