ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Three people who spent Monday night lost and stranded on a 20-foot pontoon boat in Mosquito Lagoon near Oak Hill, Fla., are now safe following a rescue Tuesday evening involving a helicopter, multiple boats and several response agencies.
Rescued were Mark Hutchinson, 51, of Edgewater, Fla.; Georgia Hunt, also of Edgewater; and George Edwards, 50, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Monday the trio took the pontoon boat from River Breeze Park in Oak Hill, Fla., to JB’s Fish Camp in New Smyrna Beach, where they had dinner, then departed JB’s on the boat to go back to River Breeze Park Monday night. But according to Hutchinson, he missed a turn due to inclement weather and eventually became lost.
Not knowing how to get back, the group wound up spending the night on the boat. Tuesday morning as they tried to find their way out of the canals of Mosquito Lagoon, the vessel ran out of fuel and the battery died. Hutchinson used a cell phone to call for help about noon Tuesday, but the cell phone battery died at 12:50 p.m. Tuesday and as a result, watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville who had been communicating with Hutchinson in an effort to locate the trio could no longer contact him.
A Volusia County Sheriff’s Office helicopter crew that was assisting with the search located the vessel based on the last known position of Hutchinson’s cell phone and vectored in Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Park Service boatcrews, which had all been searching for the group. The pontoon boat was in too shallow an area for any of the response boats, so Hutchinson, Hunt and Edwards waded through the water to board the National Park Service vessel, which was nearest to them. From there, they were transferred to Coast Guard Station Ponce de Leon Inlet’s 24-foot Special Purpose Craft and taken back to River Breeze Park. All three reported no injuries and declined medical treatment.
“In similar circumstances, boaters carrying an EPIRB, a personal locator beacon or a radio with a built in GPS are located and rescued almost instantly since those tools allow us to pinpoint exactly where they are,” said William Wells of the Sector Jacksonville Command Center. “Most people don’t realize how vital that equipment is, but it really does save valuable time in emergency situations.”
When activated, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons and personal locator beacons send an electronic signal which notifies the Coast Guard of a distress situation, provides a precise location and when properly registered gives responders vital details about the device’s owner and vessel. The Coast Guard encourages all boaters to carry an EPIRB or personal locator beacon.