The icy wind blasted across the rocks as the two wetsuit clad figures picked their way gingerly across the algae and barnacle covered surface in the darkness.
No moon showed to help. Waves and spray threatened to wash them away. Dain Buck had a headlight and Kevin Anderson had a waterproof flashlight tucked under the strap of his hood.
They had rescue tubes clipped around their waist, wore lifejackets, and carried rescue fins and flairs. They made slow forward progress but had to stop periodically when waves washed across the jetty.
Suddenly, a cut in the rocks about 20 yards across appeared. Water rushed through. They stopped and huddled together to shout over the gale though frozen lips, strategizing. Time was critical.
Four men were caught in a strong frontal system and their boat swamped. The boat sank as it was pushed toward the south jetty, and the men were able to scramble up and huddle behind a large rock. They called 911 and spoke with a dispatcher, who immediately alerted the Galveston Marine Response and U.S. Coast Guard.
When Buck and Anderson heard the call, they did what Beach Patrol protocol dictates and tried to launch a 22-foot rescue boat from the Coast Guard base. Neither they nor the Coast Guard were able to launch smaller boats because of the condition of the sea. Coast Guard did send a larger boat out, which eventually was able to spot the men at the end of the jetty.
Coast Guard was requested to send a helicopter to air lift the four men. Buck and Anderson made the call to walk out the jetty, find the men and assess their condition, then radio the GPS coordinates to the helicopter.
They weren’t sure how long the men would last in the 36 degree windchill, made worse by being wet, exhausted and exposed. But the helicopter was rerouted to another call. A second helicopter was then dispatched and shortly after canceled for equipment problems.
Buck and Anderson used a swift-water technique using their rope to cross the cut one at a time. They eventually found that swimming next to the rocks was faster than walking, although they kept bumping into underwater rocks because they couldn’t get too far from the jetty without being blown out to sea. They found them, but without air support, they knew they wouldn’t be able to bring the victims to shore.
Fortunately, the Beach Patrol has a number of full-time guards who watch out for each other. Despite wind gusts of up to 45 mph, Jeff Mullin and Kevin Knight made the bold decision to run a Jet Ski, which won’t swamp or be blown over like a boat, out right by the rocks in the protected area. Eventually, with the teamwork of fire, EMS, and police, and after a heroic effort taking more than 3 1/2 hours, everyone got back to shore safely.
These heroes took some risks to get everyone to shore, but it paid off. The sea din’t claim any lives that night.