Sunday, January 20, 2019

MarEx Exclusive: Rescue at Sea [PART 2]

December 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Port Services & Renewables

The author recounts a real-life rescue and the lessons learned.

By Captain Chris Palle, WSI

Both she and I were very lucky when my left hand connected with her head. I could feel her struggling still. Towing her by the hair I stroked for the surface, running short of air now myself. We reached the surface and she immediately started climbing on me, ripping at my shoulders and chest with her fingernails. She was drowning me. Somewhere in my subconscious I recalled the training for this exact situation. You break free, then assess and return if you can.

Now without me for support, she went under again. I knew it was now or never so I reapproached her and immediately she was climbing on me again. This time with a free hand I slapped her to bring her out of her panic. She calmed down and let me tow her on my side. Now that her face was up and she could breathe, it seemed she realized safety was near. Camilo grabbed the woman, who immediately began screaming at him. Through the noisy commotion I could hear Camilo yell at me, “We are running out of time!” Yes… the time. A mad dash back and I grabbed another child with a nasty gash on the side of his head. One eye was extremely dilated, and I´m certain he had head trauma. I took him in tow and suddenly the oldest girl jumped from the wreckage onto my back. Fortunately, our vessel had drifted closer, so the dash back with both of them wasn’t nearly as long.

The father seemed to snap out of his shock, perhaps realizing that our boat was close enough for him to cover the distance with his limited swimming ability. A couple of wild strokes through the water and he reached the transom at about the same time I did. Camilo and our deckhand pulled the kids and father aboard to safety. I was last in the water and with what strength I had left I kicked and pulled, trying to heave myself over the transom, when suddenly the boat started pulling away from me. I was being dragged behind the boat in the prop wash. The motors were screaming and I thought, “What the hell is he doing, leaving me behind?” Camilo grabbed my wrist and dragged me over the back, retching up water.

The Wave

I looked up and realized why our captain had gunned the motors. The first wave of the next set was looming over us, standing tall on the reef, loading its energy to break on top of us. I knew it was going to be close. As fate would have it our timing was perfect. We punched through the top of the heaving wave and were airborne for what seemed a very long time. Of course no one was holding on so we were all floating well off the deck. With a bone-jarring crack our vessel came down along with all of us. We landed in a bloody pile, the entire family screaming and crying. Our captain did an outstanding job of anticipating the incoming wave and saved us all.

I assessed the scene, finding the three-year-old, and started CPR. He took a long breath, then there was nothing for a very long time. Just when I thought he wouldn’t breathe again, he took another breath. We continued like this for some time until his breathing stopped altogether. I could see in the little guy’s eyes he didn’t have long. Getting air into his lungs was difficult because he was bleeding from the mouth, so each time I did resuscitative breathing I had to roll him up on his side to drain the blood.

The 20 minutes running at full speed into our port of Quepos seemed like seconds to me. We blasted into the congested port running at full speed, waking the entire marina and eliciting a burst of obscenities from unknowing boat owners. Our captain had called the hospital on the way in and notified them that we were coming, and the ambulance was waiting for us when we arrived. My last view before their departure to the hospital was the whole family packed into a small Costa Rican ambulance while paramedics fought to keep the three-year-old alive.

Lessons Learned

Suddenly everything was very quiet again. The world had slowed, and I stood in a giant puddle of blood. Someone pointed out a huge flap of skin peeled back to the bone on my right foot that I couldn’t feel. My blood was mixed with theirs and, as we all well know from a safety standpoint, their blood was now part of my own.

Later that same evening, now bandaged and clean, I found my friend Camilo sitting on the back deck of our boat staring out to sea. I sat beside him and realized he had tears running down his cheeks. He didn’t make any attempt to wipe them away. We sat in silence for a while before I told him that the family was alive because of us, because of him. He responded with a statement I will never forget: “Today God saw us.”

We later learned that all the children and the parents had completely recovered from this terrible ordeal.

Camilo and I would never have been able to do what we did if we had not gone through important safety training. This training enabled us to know our workplace dangers and understand our own fears. With proper training you can put those fears aside, allowing you to focus on what you have learned, giving you and others the best chance of survival.

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