Oh Captain, My Hero
Five Towboat Captains Honored for Heroism
David McBride, U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Search and Rescue, presents an award for heroism to
Capt. Kevin Freestone of TowBoatUS Big Pine Key, Fla., at the annual BoatUS Towing Services Conference.
TAMPA, Fla. -- With over 600 towboats spread across North America, the law of averages dictates that, eventually, BoatUS towing captains will be thrust into the middle of life-threatening emergencies.
BoatUS Towing Services recently honored five of its TowBoatUS captains for their heroic actions with its annual BoatUS "Woody Pollack Lifesaving Awards" at a ceremony that capped off the group's annual conference held in Tampa. The award is named after the well-respected towboat captain in the fleet who died at an early age.
"Sometimes the routine of normal day is interrupted by a life-threatening
mayday call or an incident that unfolds in front of them, and our
captains step in without hesitation," said BoatUS Vice President
of Towing Services Jerry Cardarelli. "They are not in the rescue
business, but their actions save others. We are very proud of them."
U.S. Coast Guard Chief of Search and Rescue, Capt. David McBride, who BoatUS also honored at the ceremony for his years of selfless and dedicated service to the nation's boaters, presented the awards on behalf of BoatUS.
Following are the details on the incidents:
Late one blustery night last year in July, Capt. Kevin Freestone of TowBoatUS Big Pine Key, Fla., responded to a mayday call from a 22-foot vessel with six persons aboard. After communications with the stricken boat fell ominously silent, Freestone desperately searched and found the swamped vessel, in which the passengers, standing in the semi-submersed boat, were precariously trying to balance to keep from overturning. Freestone took all aboard and safely returned them to shore and salvaged the vessel.
When a late afternoon thunderstorm rolled in sheets of rain, 30-knot winds, lighting and thunder, Capt. Lee Eckler of TowBoatUS Tarpon Springs, Fla., was stunned at what he saw in the distance through the tempest: three heads bobbing in the water and an overturned kayak. Eckler immediately took aboard three girls, age 12 to 16, who only had one life jacket among them, and then safely deposited them and the kayak ashore at their nearby home. It was likely the luckiest break in their young lives.
One Friday last April, husband and wife Captains Rodney and Mattie Suggs of TowBoatUS Clear Lake, Texas, raced to the scene of a disabled sailboat that had reported several persons in the water, but who were unable to swim back to the vessel as a swift current dragged them farther away. After finding one person and safely bringing them aboard, the Suggs' were shocked to learn that six others were still missing. Searching, the captains soon found the remaining group - all of whom were severely exhausted, and one who had ingested a large amount of seawater. His friends said the young man would have soon drowned if it had not been for the Sugg's fortunate actions.
On a Saturday afternoon, Capt. Mike Dunn of TowBoatUS Homosassa, Fla., along with the local sheriff, arrived to a chaotic scene in which a 37-foot powerboat had violently overturned, ejecting its nine passengers into the water. While all had injuries, one 18-year-old was blue, not breathing, and had an exposed open wound to the head. After loading the young man aboard with the help of a Good Samaritan nurse and the boy's mother, Dunn gunned the engines racing for shore while CPR was performed. At high speed, he then dodged dozens of boats along a narrow, constricted waterway, all the while making calls on the VHF radio and arranging to rendezvous with EMTs. The teen was life-flighted to the local hospital -- and survived.