TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A U.S. Coast Guard petty officer who was instrumental in helping to rescue seven boaters in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday spoke to 8 On Your Side Tuesday about the harrowing ordeal.
8 On Your Side talked over Zoom to Petty Officer 2nd class Joseph Wright, who is based at the Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg.
“It was Sunday afternoon. We had already launched for another case,” Wright said. “We got re-directed to this incident. A passing vessel called in and reported a capsized vessel with multiple people in the water.”
The transit to the scene was roughly 10 miles, Wright explained. But, they faced huge challenges: rough seas and winds.
When the Coast Guard members arrived, they realized they had to work quickly. Only two of the seven people had donned life jackets.
“At that time, we were able to go outside of the cabin of our boat, make contact with them, throw them a line,” he said. “One by one they were able to use that line to make it to our vessel.”
Wright said emotions were high.
“They were all crying, it very emotional,” he said. “The first guy, as soon as we pulled him out of the water, the first thing he did was give me and the other guy who helped him out of the water a giant hug.”
Wright said it was a “rough situation” for the Coast Guard’s 45-foot boat.
“I can’t imagine what they were going through,” he said.
He stated that he believes the boat took water over its bow and capsized quickly in an area called Delta Cut.
One of the seven people on board was eight months pregnant, Wright said.
“You do have to treat that person differently, just because picking them out of the water, you want to be a little bit gentle,” he said.
Six members from the St. Petersburg station helped with the rescue. One of them documented it and the dramatic video was posted on social media.
Wright said the boaters told him they planned to swim to a nearby range marker. He said it likely would have turned tragic since seas were so rough.
Wright and those with him Sunday were elated with the outcome and happy to get all seven boaters back to shore.
“This is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been part of,” he said. “They were out on their upside vessel for over three hours in the water in these crazy weather conditions. It was the most amazing experience. I’m so happy we were able to get to these people in time.”
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