A look at the Coast Guard rescue of 2 near Oregon Inlet, NC

5th Coast Guard District NewsPORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Coast Guard rescued two people after the 43-foot recreational boat they were aboard sank 45 miles east of Oregon Inlet, N.C., Saturday.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina received a call at approximately 1 p.m. from a crewmember aboard the Reel Escape, from Glen Allen, Va., stating that they were taking on water and were in need of assistance.

“We were transiting from Cape Hatteras when we hit a submerged object,” said Rob LoFtis, owner and operator of the Reel Escape. “We went below deck to see that the engine compartment was rapidly filling up with water.”

The crew reported that they were flooding and that the on board pumps were not keeping up.

“We went to the radio and made the distress call on 16,” said LoFtis. “No one came back at first. I made a second call and when the Coast Guard responded, we passed them our GPS position.”

The boater’s call dropped, but watchstanders began receiving an emergency position indicating radio beacon transmission near the reported location.

“We brought the handheld GPS, VHF radio, and personal EPIRB,” said LoFtis. “I had a flare gun crash kit, which included parachute flares, pencil flares, and a few cans of smoke.”

At approximately 2 p.m. an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew form Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., was launched to search for the boaters.

After losing communication with the Coast Guard the boaters said they abandoned ship into a life raft.

“It was less than 15 minutes after we hit the object that we knew we were going to abandon the ship,” said LoFtis.

The boaters said that after boarding the life raft they kept making call outs on their handheld radio using channels 16 and 80, the commonly used fishing channel in that area.

“It felt like we were in the raft much longer than I’m sure it actually was,” said Robert Smith, the second person aboard the Reel Escape. “I remember I kept thinking – I hope that they heard us. For a while we were talking about how long it was going to take them to reach us by boat.”

The helicopter crew arrived on scene at approximately 2:30 p.m.

“I saw them first,” said Smith. “They came up kind of behind us, and I just yelled out to ‘get the flares!’”

“We saw them coming for us,” said LoFtis. “The prop wash was so strong we joked that they were going to push us back to shore.”

“They set off a few hundred yards from us, and we didn’t know what they were doing,” said Smith. “We thought maybe there was a boat just over the horizon we couldn’t see that they were sending our way. But then I saw a guy sitting in the door with his fins on, and said they’re sending us a swimmer.”

“The rescue swimmer came up to us and asked if we were okay, then took us one at a time over to the basket to get hoisted to the helicopter,” said LoFtis.

“The survivors made our jobs very easy,” said Lt. j.g. Kristen Jaekel, a watchstander with Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City’s Command Center. “They quickly identified they were in trouble and still managed to put out a mayday call in the ISPI format. Identification, situation, position, and intentions. In the heat of the moment they still remembered to do those things as well as decide to abandon ship in their inflatable raft and grab their EPRIB. It is important for survivors to remain calm, make appropriate decisions and grab the things that will help save their lives while being familiar with when and how to use them. These two gentlemen were very smart and did everything right, which is why they are alive and well at this moment.”

When discussing his preparedness with crewmembers from Air Station Elizabeth City LoFtis said that there are several things he is sure to do before getting underway.

“I always make a plan and tell someone what I’m doing and where I’m going,” said LoFtis. I told my wife when I left that I should be at Rudee Inlet around 6.”

Then of course there’s the personal EPIRB,” said LoFtis. “We keep it right next to the radio. If something starts to go wrong, the first place you go is the radio. If it gets worse, you don’t have to think about where the EPIRB is. I have a personal EPIRB that I can keep with me.”

The boaters were transported to Air Station Elizabeth City.

“I was worried about my wife getting the phone call, because the EPIRB is registered with my home phone number,” said LoFtis. “The first thing I did was call my wife to tell her I was okay. She answered the phone and had more information than I did. The Coast Guard had called her and told her that we had been rescued, and I can’t thank them all enough for that”

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