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Northwest Fla--Rescuers have to be rescued

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  • Northwest Fla--Rescuers have to be rescued

    PublicationailyNews; Date:Friday, April 08, 2005 ; Section:Front page; Page:1

    rough day at sea

    Harrowing rescue endangers rescuers

    By AMY LEIGH WOMACK Daily News Staff Writer

    Four firefighters, an EMS rescuer and a distressed swimmer spent a frightening hour in water that one witness said looked “like a washing machine” Thursday afternoon.

    All six had to be rescued, and one firefighter was taken to the hospital.

    Okaloosa Island Assistant Fire Chief Joe Early said rescue efforts began shortly after a middle-aged man ventured into the water behind the El Matador Condominium just after 1 p.m. A red flag was flying.

    An EMS swimmer started out toward the man, and when firefighters arrived on scene, two of them went in, Early said.

    Soon it became apparent even the rescuers were having trouble getting back to shore.

    “So we sent two more in,” Early said.

    At some point, one of the rescuers came back to shore empty handed, he said. Then, when firefighters from Fort Walton Beach arrived, Battalion Chief Gene Large also swam into the crashing waves.

    Rescue boats from the Destin Fire Control District and Coast Guard Station Destin were launched to make the rescue, but conditions prevented the boats from reaching the six swimmers, who were bobbing up and down in the white caps.

    “The waves were too rough to get them in without jeopardizing them,” Early said. “They could have capsized.” About 150 people — most in bathing suits but about a dozen dressed in firefighter and EMS uniforms — stood watching the efforts on the beach. All they could do was wait.

    “It’s just like watching someone in a washing machine,” said Bonnie Koontz of Louisville, Ky., as she watched from the beach.

    “They’re just bobbing up and down,” Koontz said as she watched the swimmers’ heads disappear between the huge waves and then reappear.

    When asked whether she’d been in the water Thursday, Koontz relied, “Aww hell, no.” Rescue personnel considered calling in air support to pull the victims from the water, and a helicopter was put on standby. But then they put a tethered rope around a lifeguard, who drifted out in hopes of reaching the tiring swimmers.

    Soon after 2 p.m., contact was made. As the swimmers were pulled into shore, the crowd erupted in applause and firefighters hugged their exhausted friends.

    An hour had passed since the ordeal began.

    Nick Collins, a firefighter for Okaloosa Island, was taken to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center for exhaustion. Hospital officials said he was treated and released Thursday.

    No one else required medical attention.

    Dripping wet and holding the cell phone and keys he had dropped off before jumping in the water, firefighter Large spoke of his time in the water.

    He said every time the group of cold, tiring swimmers seemed to make progress in, kicking their way back to shore, the riptide pulled them back out.

    He said he was positioned in front of the rest of the swimmers — all holding onto a board — and was able to warn them when a wave was going to hit.

    “I’d tell them to stop kicking and rest,” Large said.

    Double red flags, which close the water, were posted during the rescue.

    • Staff Writer Amy Leigh Womack can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 445, or [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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