When The Routine Becomes An Emergency
March 1, 2022
Here Are Some Lifesaving Acts By TowBoatUS Captains
Captains from Calif., Fla., N.C., N.J., Mich., S.C. are honored at annual gathering.
For the red boats of TowBoatUS, the on-water towing and assistance fleet for recreational boaters, a routine day typically includes towing disabled boats back to the launch ramp, providing battery jumps, dropping off fuel, or offering a gentle tug out of the shallows. For each of these 12 towboat captains and crews, however, one workday was far from routine. At the recent annual gathering of the nationwide TowBoatUS fleet, crewmates from California, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan and South Carolina were honored by their peers with a Woody Pollack Lifesaving Award and eight Meritorious Service Awards.
Woody Pollak Lifesaving Award
Capt. Ian Crochetiere, TowBoatUS Fort Lauderdale, Florida: When two swimmers - a man and a woman - were being swept to sea out Hillsboro Inlet, Capt. Crochetiere jumped into action. As the outbound tide took the helpless swimmers into 3- to 4-foot breaking waves, they were able to halt their journey by climbing onto to the inlet's jetty. Wave after wave pounded the duo, and the woman was soon ripped from her perch, bouncing off rocks in the stormy sea. Crochtiere brought the bloodied woman aboard and then to the safety of a nearby sand bar where she was unloaded. Crochtiere raced back to the jetty to locate her male companion who was now exhausted and wedged between wave-washed boulders. Crochtiere tossed him a line and coaxed the man to jump into the water. The captain then deftly pulled him over to shallows where the swimmer was able to exit the water. At last report, both were doing fine.
Meritorious Service Awards
Capt. Jesse Pusheé & Capt. Tommy Morgan, TowBoatUS Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina: When a 25-foot center-console with two aboard hit Masonboro Inlet jetty before landing on top, Capt. Jesse Pusheé and Capt. Tommy Morgan responded. A female, who was shoeless, had been ejected but was able to get back aboard the damaged boat, which was surrounded by razor sharp barnacles. Knowing that she and her male companion's only way out was across the barnacles and down into the water, the two captains quickly debated who had the better shoe size, then Pusheé removed his and tossed them to the couple at the end of a hawser. Using a towline strung between Morgan's boat and the damaged vessel, the survivors safely lowered themselves into deep water and Pusheé pulled them aboard. Other than bruised ribs and lacerations, both were OK.
Capt. Greg Giggi, TowBoatUS Charleston, South Carolina: With a fierce storm approaching, Capt. Greg Giggi was dispatched to assist a disabled pleasurecraft with eight aboard. The boat was dragging anchor close to a rock levee wall. Unable to remove the occupants due to the sea state, Giggi quickly took the vessel in tow, but it was too late. The towboat could not make headway, and waves began to fill the pleasureboat. The vessel soon rolled, splashing all occupants into the water. Giggi cut the towline, brought his towboat about, and quickly began recovering the victims - grabbing two before his prop fouled. He quickly set anchor, cleared the prop, hauled anchor and was underway again. Despite a partial loss of engine power, Giggi completed retrieving the remaining six persons in the water, who had only minor injuries.
Capt. Lance Pannebaker, TowBoatUS Lake St. Clair, Michigan: Late at night, Capt. Lance Pannebaker was entering Black Creek at Metro Beach, returning from the annual Jobbie Nooner with a vessel in tow, when he heard an emergency VHF channel 16 call for a person in the water off Metro Beach. Moments later, a cry for help came off the pitch-black lake. Pannebaker lit the waters with his floodlight and began a search while still under tow. Barely 10 minutes later he found a 22-year-old man in a life vest whose boat had sunk some six hours earlier. Hypothermic, the man's face was completely blue from the ordeal, but he survived. Sadly, the man's 19-year-old companion did not.
Capt. Chuck Tharp, TowBoatUS Barnegat Light, New Jersey: On a summer morning, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Delaware was working a medical emergency mayday call when Capt. Chuck Tharp overheard the VHF transmissions and responded. He was the first to reach the stricken man aboard a sailboat, took him and his son immediately aboard, and raced to awaiting responders, all the while providing critical updates and enabling a coordinated response. The Coast Guard acknowledged that the captain's "immediate call to action and quick response undoubtedly saved a life that morning."
Capt. Kevin Lankowicz, TowBoatUS Tampa Bay, Florida: On a late Saturday night, Capt. Kevin Lankowicz was in the vicinity of the Rt. 60 Memorial Bridge, proceeding slowly due to an earlier warning of two missing persons who reportedly had been swept from a nearby beach. At the bridge, Lankowicz found a man struggling to stay afloat, going under and resurfacing on the incoming tide. Lankowicz deftly used his boat hook to reach for and bring the man aboard, where he immediately collapsed on deck from exhaustion. The man was safely delivered ashore to responders.
Capt. Hunter Lenardson and Capt. Grayson Ford, TowBoatUS St. Joseph, Michigan: </strong> A disabled sailboat call quickly went south. With Capt. Hunter Lenardson at the helm and Capt. Grayson Ford as safety, the men responded, soon locating the stricken vessel with a storm-beaten solo captain aboard trying to make headway in 40 mph winds and 5- to 8-foot seas. Unable to communicate with the sailor and noticing something seemed amiss in the way the man spoke, Capt. Ford boarded the sailboat and connected a towline. The man, barely moving and bleeding with a softball sized bruise on the top of his skull, and showing signs of stroke, uttered "head explode!" just before losing consciousness. Lenardson called 911. The captains quickly brought the man ashore. He survived.
Capt. Michael Del Grande and Deckhand Ricky Birks, TowBoatUS Long Beach, California: A mayday call went unanswered, driving Capt. Michael Del Grande and crewmember Ricky Birks into action. Transiting in an area far from traffic lanes, the short VHF radio call sounded clear and close, then abruptly ceased. A scan of the horizon revealed a small white vessel - a mere "speck" - in the distance, and Del Grande gunned the towboat. Soon Del Grande and Birks could see persons in the water clinging to the hull and swiftly pulled them aboard. The survivors said they barely had time to make the short mayday call - a call no one else heard - before the vessel turned over, spilling them into the ocean.
Capt. Chris Day, TowBoatUS Lake Okeechobee, Florida: On a spring afternoon with a storm approaching, Capt. Chris Day headed out to a sailboat ungrounding. It was getting dark, and seas were 4 feet. Upon arrival, Day immediately retrieved an overboard passenger and delivered him to nearby shallows. Heading back to the sailboat, he connected a towline and fought 40 mph winds to secure the sailboat to a mooring post. Completing this difficult task, Day found the captain aboard unconscious with shallow breathing and immediately brought him aboard the towboat. With the storm preventing a helicopter rescue, Day headed to shore. While en route, he performed first aid while operating the vessel in less-than-favorable conditions, keeping the victim safe on the floor between the seat and helm for 40 minutes until reaching first responders ashore. The victim required open heart surgery and spent a couple weeks in the hospital.