Pilots from Md. and Va. assist rescue of capsizing victims

Pilot launches from Maryland and Virginia were involved in the rescue of four fishermen whose 18-foot boat capsized in rough seas.

The Maryland pilot launch Patapsco responded to a mayday call at 0909 on Jan. 14 reporting that the fishermen’s aluminum boat needed assistance in the lower Chesapeake Bay. The fishing boat, with six people, capsized a short time later.

While a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and rescue boat were responding, the 52-foot Patapsco sailed toward the helicopter. Launch captains Reed Sutherland and Matt Bailey discovered one survivor floating upright, wearing a life jacket. Using a man-overboard device called a Matesaver, a retractable hoop attached to a pole, they lassoed the man and hauled him aboard.

“A lot of things came together in this rescue,” said John Hamill, vice president of the Association of Maryland Pilots. “Our crews receive regular man-overboard training and are trained in CPR.”

Then the Patapsco crew spotted a second person in that water, face down, and hauled him aboard.

The Coast Guard picked up three survivors. Two of the survivors were taken to a hospital in the helicopter and a third was brought ashore in a Coast Guard small boat. Of the two people picked up by Patapsco, only one survived.

With winds gusting to 30 knots, the fishing boat had capsized off the Lynnhaven section of Virginia Beach, Va. The water temperature was 43 degrees.

The Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter had been on a routine fisheries patrol and was returning to its base in Elizabeth City, N.C., when the distress call went out to Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. The chopper was directed to an area near Lynnhaven.

The copter copilot “spotted the overturned vessel and the people in the water. We immediately assessed the situation and prepared to deploy our rescue swimmer,” said the Jayhawk’s pilot, Lt. William Coty.

Tim Barco, a radio tower operator for the Association of Maryland Pilots at Cape Henry, also heard the mayday. Barco contacted Sutherland and Bailey, who were returning to their Lynnhaven station after dropping pilots off to a ship. Hamill said Barco sent them to an area near the first and second island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

“Look for the helicopter,” Barco advised his launch captains. Barco also called a Virginia Pilots Association launch and told it the same.

Shortly after the Maryland captains spotted the helicopter, they found the survivor floating in the water. Then they retrieved the face-down person who, despite an effort at CPR, didn’t survive. A Virginia Beach police boat picked up a third person who did not survive.

Barco also contacted Billy Burket, a captain in the Virginia Beach Fire Department’s marine unit and a cold water survival specialist. Burket, on the 52-foot Virginia pilot launch Old Dominion, coordinated ambulance service with the fire department. The survivors were treated at local hospitals for hypothermia.

This was not the first time that Maryland and Virginia pilots cooperated on a lifesaving mission. In 2004, they helped revive a commercial fishermen who had been pulled underwater while setting nets.

Hamill said Maryland pilots and launch crews receive extensive rescue and first aid training. “The launches are even equipped with automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, in the event of cardiac arrest. Upcoming training for our crew is slated to include the participation of federal pilots,” he said.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff