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A light in the darkness

Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Just after 8 p.m. on Monday, July 29, the Northumberland Sheriff’s office received a 911 call from a panicked man who reported he was on a boat and the captain/owner had fallen overboard and vanished. He told the dispatcher he had no idea where he was or how to operate the boat. The dispatcher called Smith Point Sea Rescue and provided the man’s cell number. The Senior Boat Captain, Buddy Sylvia called the man and asked, “Can you read me the latitude and longitude off the boat’s GPS?” The man did not understand. “Can you see land?” “No!” “Can you see anything?” “I think I saw a lighthouse.” “Is it Smith Point Light?” “Maybe, but please help me!”

Rescue 1 was immediately dispatched from Reedville with a crew of four and headed out to Smith Point Light as darkness fell. Once at the lighthouse the crew turned on search lights and began looking for the boat on their radar with no success. The wind was blowing 15-20mph, waves were 5-7 feet high, and they were now in total darkness.

Figuring that the missing boat was being driven by the wind and current, the crew began slowly cruising with the wind in a NNW direction, scanning with handheld searchlights as they progressed. After an hour of hopeless searching one of the crewmen thought he heard a cry from the dark waters and swung his spotlight around to see a man rising and falling as he floated just 40 feet from the boat.

Incredulous at their good luck, the crew threw a tethered life ring to the man and hauled him aboard Rescue 1. The man was wearing a life jacket and told the crew he’d been in the water for about 4 hours.  He was exhausted and terrified, but otherwise unhurt.

The man explained that he and his friend had been cobia fishing all day when they hooked a fish that swam around their boat and tangled the fishing line in the propeller. In an effort to land the fish the captain put on a lifejacket and jumped overboard to untangle the line. In minutes the boat moved away leaving him in the water and his passenger stranded aboard.

For the full article, pick up the latest Northumberland Echo 8/14/19

Crew on the July 29 rescue, left to right: Buddy Sylvia, Mike Romey,

Steve Bowen and Robert Gwaltney.