Supervisors Dain Buck and Thomas “TK” Mills made their way carefully through the dark night to the other side of the ship channel to the North Jetty. They squinted through the spray kicked up by big, rolling swells as the powerful watercraft motor churned them along.

The water was still rough, but was a bit calmer near the jetty, although big swells came through and across the rocks. They headed seaward, hugging the rocks and used big, waterproof dive lights to scan for the boat reported to be in distress.

The jetty is 2 miles long and they located the wrecked boat pretty far offshore. The boat had run up on the rocks and still had three people onboard. Another couple of boats had seen them and were nearby, but could not get close enough to help because of the large swells and waves crashing over from the other side. The Coast Guard did not have a helicopter available, and were really busy, so response by boat was delayed.

In this type of situation there are basically only two ways to get people off the rocks: The Coast Guard can lower a rescue swimmer who puts each person in a harness to be air lifted; and the other option is for a swimming rescue, meaning beach patrol swims from the water, climbs up the rocks and figures out how to get the people off safely.

Buck maneuvered the rescue craft as close as he could to the rocks and they called out to the passengers. They were unharmed, although shaken up, and were all in life jackets. One of the nearby boats volunteered to transport them to safety if the beach patrol rescue crew could get them to the boat.

Buck backed the craft toward the rocks as TK balanced on the rescue sled. The waves rising and falling made it difficult as the boat and sled moved up and down, in danger of being crushed. TK slid off the back and swam to the rocks. He pulled himself up on the rocks and passed a helmet up to the first of three passengers.

Once the helmet was secure and they checked to make sure her lifejacket was snug, she leaned over the side of the boat into Mills’ outstretched arms. He held onto her as Buck backed up even further, allowing the rescue sled to hover over the rocks right where Mills and the victim stood. They had to time it perfectly, with Mills laying the victim down on the sled and climbing on top before the trough between waves stranded them high and dry. As soon as they were in position, Dain gunned the craft, pulling them to deeper water — and to safety.

The second and third rescues were just as tough, but at least they had the system down, so went fairly smoothly. Once they were all loaded in the good Samaritan’s boat, everyone finally relaxed.

Beach patrol and our partner agencies make a number of these types of rescues all around the island each year.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the beach patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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