In the pitch-black darkness of the Pamlico Sound, two fishermen realized they were in deep trouble. It was 2 a.m. on a blustery Thursday night and the Heathers Breeze, the North Carolina men’s beloved 35-foot fishing vessel, was sinking.
Both were experienced mariners, but five miles is a long way to swim, the staggering distance typically reserved for Navy SEALs and Olympic swimmers. With no way to save themselves, the men alerted the Hatteras Coast Guard to their predicament.
In the call, they informed the rescue crew that the Heathers Breeze was “taking on water” and begged them to hurry. Climbing aboard a 47-foot lifeboat from the Coast Guard Station, the rescuers reached the boaters within minutes.
Upon their arrival, the crew did everything they could to save Heathers Breeze. They first sent over a pump to remove the water, but the fishermen didn’t know how to use it. Unshaken, the crew sent one of their own to the sinking vessel to help set up the pump before bringing him back onboard the lifeboat.
The pump, however, proved ineffective against the surging water of the Pamlico Sound. And 10 minutes later, the fishermen were left with no choice but to abandon ship, plunging into icy waters more than cold enough to cause hypothermia.
Thankfully, the Coast Guard was there to pull the fishermen onboard the lifeboat with a rescue rope just as the Heathers Breeze gave up her fight, fishing gear littering the surface as the ship slowly drifted out of sight.
North Carolina Coast Guard Urges Mariners to Practice Safe Sailing
Without the help of the Coast Guard, the fishermen faced two possible fates. They would either drown in the Pamlico Sound, miles from the shore, or slowly succumb to hypothermia in the frigid lagoon water.
The temperature of the Sound bottomed out at 58 degrees on the night of the incident. Anything below 70 is dangerous but in waters 50 to 60 degrees, exhaustion sets in far faster than it normally would. After around an hour, the fishermen would have been far too cold to even attempt to swim, likely going unconscious. Anywhere from minutes to a few hours later, they would be dead.
The entire terrifying scene shared by the Hatteras Inlet rescue crew started and finished in under two minutes, illustrating just how fast disaster can strike. To drive the point home, the Hatteras Coast Guard shared a warning to other mariners along with their description of the event.
“The maritime environment is often unpredictable and preparedness is crucial,” Stephen Sawyer, Sector North Carolina command duty officer, said in a statement. “We recommend commercial fishing vessels contact their local Coast Guard commercial fishing safety examiner for a comprehensive safety exam, have a reliable means of communication, and always wear a life jacket.”