Eckerd College Search and Rescue responded to a boat crash on Jan. 23 half a mile north of the Skyway Bridge, resulting in five of the passengers being hospitalized. EC-SAR responded along with the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.
Saturday morning’s visibility was low due to fog covering the St. Petersburg area, which could have caused the two boats to collide and one to capsize. According to Ryan Dilkey, associate director of Waterfront for EC-SAR, four responders aboard Rescue Six arrived at the incident at 9:15 a.m.
“I was first notified of an incident at 08:28, very much still asleep. We never know exactly what the incident is until we get to the waterfront. About five minutes later, once the entire crew was at the waterfront, we found out that we would be responding to a boat collision,” said senior Maria Ferraez.
As team leader, driver and radio operator, Ferraez, said that responding to the collision was one of the most challenging experiences as a driver because of the fog. The team had to use fog horns to communicate with and find St. Petersburg Fire Boat 11.
“I could see about 10ft. off of my bow and 5 ft. off to port and starboard. Usually we run full throttle to cases of this nature, but we were moving at half speed to avoid collision. Our crew was on top pointing out objects as they appeared so we could respond safely,” Ferraez said.
Ferraez said that when Rescue Six arrived on the scene, one of the boats was capsized while another was being towed by TowBoatUSA.
Dilkey said the Rescue Six provided scene safety support for the Coast Guard and the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue. The team monitored the scene until the FWC arrived to take over. A press release from the Coast Guard said passengers on the two boats were transported to Bayfront and St. Anthony’s Hospital, where five have been hospitalized.
Ferraez emphasized how important her crew was to the success of the call.
“You think about your crew first. Keeping them safe and ensuring that everyone is prepared for the situation, both physically and mentally, is the number one priority. Then you think about the people involved in the incident…” Ferraez said. “...When I get out there, I feel everything at once. Concern, fear, hope, optimism. I have to quickly push past those feelings and focus back to keeping the crew, other assets, and individuals involved in the incident safe."