On Friday, Feb. 20, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) took time to honor those who risked their lives to save five mariners last fall, when their 18-foot vessel was swamped by a rogue wave and capsized 7 miles off of Rehoboth Beach. Six members of the USCG Delaware Bays Sector braved the elements that took the life of one of the vessel’s crew on Oct. 9, 2008.
The USCG also recognized and honored crew members of the recreational vessel the Tranquila with the Coast Guard Public Service Commendation Award. The crew of the Tranquila spotted the wreckage of the capsized boat, contacted the Coast Guard and assisted in the search-and-rescue procedure.
Survivors of the capsized vessel were treated for hypothermia after drifting in 60-degree water for more than five hours, and the crew of the Tranquila assisted in locating the boaters and helped treat the survivors. Members of the Lewes Fire Department, Sussex County Emergency Medical Service and the Delaware State Police were also commended for their support in the rescue effort.
“Everything happened all-of-a-sudden,” recalled Tranquila captain Mark Stephens. “At first, [when we saw the vessel], we thought it was just a sunken boat and didn’t think there was anyone in danger. Then, when we slowed down, we could hear people yelling. We saw debris and could see where they’d be drifting, and we knew we had to help find survivors.”
Crew members of the Tranquila stayed throughout the night to assist in the rescue.
“We train very carefully,” said Capt. David Scott, commander of the USCG’s Sector Delaware Bays. “The fact that we lost one person pains us greatly. We go out there and train hard. Of course, we want to bat 1,000, and I’m very proud of these guys. The members of the Coast Guard are professionals. They’re out there on the West and West Coasts, the Gulf Coast and on the lakes, doing this every day, largely unheralded.”
The rescue could have been even more catastrophic had the Tranquila’s crew not taken the actions they had.
“We can’t cover all the water all the time,” stated USCG’s Brent Hopkins, one of the members who acted in the rescue. “It’s a great asset to have mariners out there helping us. We appreciate everything they’ve done.”
“This is what we are trained to do,” added USCG member Chris Hudgins, who also participated in the rescue. “We went out and did what we prepare our selves for, but it really magnifies the whole situation when you have boaters out there helping us.”
“As good as the Coast Guard is,” Scott added, “we have to rely on the professionalism of other mariners out there. If we didn’t have [the crew of the Tranquila], this situation would have been much worse. Kudos to them and their efforts.”
Stephens has been minding the seas for years, and there was no question in his mind that he was going to do everything in his power to help the survivors.
“Recreational boaters need to look out for each other,” he said. “We rely on the Coast Guard, but there are more of us out there than them, and we have to keep an eye out. Mariners are a close-knit group, and if you’re not always attentive, anything can happen. I realize that going out on the waters is not always the safest thing. There’s a risk, and that’s something we have to understand and appreciate.”
A moment of silence was also taken at the ceremony, in remembrance of the downed vessel’s sole victim, Bruce Weaver of Hershey, Pa. A search of more than 470 square miles of water surrounding the accident site was conducted after the accident, in an unsuccessful effort to locate Weaver.