At 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, the Northumberland County Sheriff’s office issued a VHF radio alert to Smith Point Sea Rescue (SPSR) reporting a 50-foot Carver with eight persons onboard was taking on water near buoy 62 in the central Chesapeake Bay. SPSR, the all-volunteer marine rescue team in Reedville, VA, responded to the call.
As soon as the crew of four was assembled at their boathouse, Rescue I, SPSR’s 42-foot Provincial heavy weather day/night rescue boat departed. The crew consisted of Bill Turville, Pete Ortiz, Michael Haynie, and Robert Gwaltney, all seasoned members from Reedville. En route to the Bay, the dispatch office called back to report that the vessel had sunk and all eight persons were now in the water.
Rescue I departed Cockrell Creek and traveled across the Bay at wide open throttle as the wind and waves were rapidly building in advance of a major evening storm. The Coast Guard contacted SPSR to request an ETA and advised they would have a unit on the way. Once on scene, no signs of victims or debris were found, and no other boats were nearby. SPSR established a search pattern around the last known position and began to visually search the waters.
After about a half hour, one of the victims who had a handheld VHF radio could occasionally be heard and SPSR was able to establish limited communication with him. When asked, the man in the water reported that all victims were wearing lifejackets and were together, but to please hurry.
Soon thereafter, the man in the water reported that he thought he could hear a boat motor and then confirmed so when Rescue I cut its engines. SPSR asked if he could see a white boat with flashing lights and if it was approaching him. He reported he believed Rescue I was coming towards him. SPSR then turned 30 degrees to port to confirm. Shortly thereafter coolers and other flotsam started to appear. The man in the water called and said they were at the three o’clock position. The crew then scanned to the right and a group of eight heads were seen floating huddled together.
A tethered life ring was tossed, and all were quickly pulled to the rear of Rescue I. Three women and five men were then carefully lifted one by one through the “tuna door” onto the deck of Rescue I. First Aid was administered and all of SPSR’s emergency blankets and towels as well as the crew’s shirts and jackets were distributed for warmth.
After at least 50 minutes in the 49-degree water, most of the survivors were in remarkable condition. One male was suffering from hypothermia and was treated on the deck by crew members lying beside him and sharing their body heat. The others were moved into the warmer but crowded cabin and huddled together on the floor. Additional SPSR crew members, already assembled on the beach, coordinated with dispatch for triage to be established at Ingram Bay Marina.
When Rescue I arrived at the marina 25 minutes later, Northumberland Rescue Squad and EMS were on the scene with three squad units. EMS requested they be allowed to board Rescue I to perform triage. The result was one code red, one code yellow, and all others green. After on-scene treatment, all the survivors declined transport to RGH and were given access to the cabins at Ingram Bay to warm and clean up while travel arrangements were coordinated to their homes in New Jersey. Rescue I returned to quarters at approximately 5 p.m.
The survivors’ boat left earlier Saturday morning from Virginia Beach with its new owners heading to its new home in New Jersey. The boat was later located and SPSR understands that the owner plans to refloat the boat and remove the diesel fuel.
SPSR wishes to thank the Northumberland Sheriff’s Office Fire and Rescue Dispatchers, the Northumberland County Rescue Squad and EMS, Ingram Bay Marina, the United States Coast Guard, and the Virginia Marine Police for their assistance in successfully completing this mission. To make a donation or learn more about SPSR, visit smithpointsearescue.com.
By Bill Turville, duty captain and secretary, Smith Point Sea Rescue