Spring Break no time to party for Coast Guard

By Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas - A Coast Guard 33-foot Special Purpose Craft - Law Enforcement boat from Station South Padre Island speeds through the Gulf of Mexico waters.  A boat like this was used during a March 17, 2007 search and rescue case involving a 17-year-old boy off the beach of South Padre Island during Spring Break. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

A Coast Guard 33-foot Special Purpose Craft – Law Enforcement boat from Station South Padre Island speeds through the Gulf of Mexico waters.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – They come from all across the country every March. Thousands of over-zealous college co-eds mix with fun-seeking families vacationing on the beaches of South Padre Island, Texas. The South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau calls Spring Break their, “5th season, a little three week party.” But while the vacationers are focused on spending time in the sun, the crew of Coast Guard Station South Padre Island is focusing on a different task; keeping the coast of southern Texas safe.

“There aren’t lifeguards on the beaches,” said Coast Guard Lt. Charles Hawkins, commanding officer of Station South Padre Island, “so we have to respond to any incident near the beach. Our rescue numbers don’t necessarily spike because of Spring Break, but it does mark the beginning of summer around here and that’s when we get a lot of calls.”

The three-week vacation turned tragic the afternoon of March 17, when a 17-year-old San Antonio boy on vacation with his family went missing while swimming in the gulf. Station South Padre Island, along with local emergency personnel, responded to a call for help from the teen’s parents, stating they had lost sight of their son from the crowded beach.

“He was caught in the surf so it was really hard to spot him,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Greg Bowers-Vest.

After a brief search, a Coast Guard crew onboard a 33-foot rescue boat spotted the boy face down in the water. Bowers-Vest was the rescue swimmer onboard the boat and jumped into the water.

“I swam over to where we saw him but I couldn’t find him,” said Bowers-Vest. “I dove under and spotted him. I grabbed him and swam as hard as I could for the surface.”

The crew pulled the boy onboard and immediately began performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation.

Shortly before arriving at Station South Padre Island, Bowers-Vest was able to generate a slight pulse. A medical helicopter was called in and the boy was airlifted to Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas.

“When we got a pulse I started thinking he might make it, but he’d just been under water too long,” said Bowers-Vest.

Unfortunately, the boy died March 19 in the hospital. The death marked the island’s only drowning of the Spring Break season.

As Spring Break 2007 officially ended and the masses of island visitors retreated back to their normal lives, the crew of Station South Padre Island took a moment to reflect on the tragedy and re-emphasized their own safety standards while on the water. After all, Spring Break is no time to party for a Coast Guard station.

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