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Calm in the eye of a stormy rescue Coast Guard thanks couple who helped save fishermen

By MARTIN DeANGELIS Staff Writer, (609) 272-7237, E-Mail/Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - It was a short trip, just half a mile of calm water and perfect visibility, for the local U.S. Coast Guard commander to drop by the Captain Collet Wednesday and thank Ed Collet and Cindy Meloy for a slightly different run the two made on the boat last month.

That day was snowy, with 8-foot seas churning and almost no visibility. The weather was getting worse, too, so the owners of the Captain Collet were taking their charter-fishing group back to the safety of their Clam Creek dock.

Then they heard the radio call from the Coast Guard saying another boat was sinking, 18 miles of ocean away.

Collet and Meloy say all they did was what they had to do. They explained the situation to their customers, who agreed that they wanted to go and do whatever they could to help the crew of the Chico Bravo, a scallop boat that had gone down in the 39-degree water.

So the Captain Collet turned back out to sea and into the weather. Almost 45 minutes later, Meloy spotted an orange dot in the gray water - even if nobody else on the boat could see what she was pointing out. The charter boat went toward the flicker of color she saw and was there to guide the Coast Guard to exactly where the two survivors were getting tossed around in their 6-foot life raft, waiting for somebody to save their lives.

Collet and Meloy actually tried to help the fishermen, John Phillips III and Ian Iysenbach, onto the Captain Collet. But the survivors weren't strong enough to do it, and the people on the fishing boat knew the Coast Guard had rescue boats just a few minutes away - they'd been in contact since they turned around after hearing the first distress call.

Ted Harrop, the commander of the Coast Guard base just on the other side of Clam Creek, came Wednesday to give Collet and Meloy letters and handshakes to congratulate and thank them for everything they did to help those fishermen - whose boat was based just a few steps away from the Captain Collet's dock - on that day, Jan. 19.

And while four TV camera crews and several more reporters and photographers jockeyed for position to hear and see the brief, informal meeting at the bow of the Captain Collet, the couple's 3-year-old son barely paid any attention to his parents getting the hero treatment. The boy, also named Edward, was obviously far more interested in how Harrop and his crew got there - on a spiffy-looking rescue boat that idled nearby as the talking went on.

Harrop, who listened to the rescue unfold on the radio that day, told Collet he was "impressed with how calm you stayed, how professional you stayed" during the rescue. Collet - the son of another veteran captain, George Collet - said he had a bit of experience on his side. Ed figures he's helped rescue about 20 people over his last 25 years on charter boats, although the others weren't in such dangerous weather.

In this one, the ocean was so rough, he says waves were coming over the bow of his boat. And the air was so cold, Collet remembers ice building up into a thick coating on his boat, including the windows of his wheelhouse.

But even that could hardly have made the visibility much worse on that gray, miserable day. Collet says they could only see a few hundred feet in front of them as they were on the way out to find whatever sign they could of the survivors or their boat or gear. Still, Meloy managed to see the orange raft - they luckily ran across it on the way to the spot, more than a mile away, where they'd been told to head, based on the sunken boat's electronic distress signal.

And by the time they got to the raft, the sky was so close and the snow was so hard that Meloy couldn't see the bright orange paint on a Coast Guard helicopter that was hovering over the rescue scene. She says the chopper just showed up as a dark spot in the sky, even as the Captain Collet crew could feel its propellers whipping up the water around them.

Investigators still don't know what caused the Chico Bravo to sink so fast, Harrop said. Phillips, who owned the boat, couldn't be reached Wednesday for comment, but Meloy and Collet say they've seen him a few times since the sinking and he's healthy again.

But that day, he and his crewman were in soaking-wet sweatpants and T-shirts, not survival suits, as they huddled together in the tent-topped life raft and waited for help.

"His skin was literally purple," Meloy goes on, before reconsidering her choice of colors. "I've seen people's lips get blue, but his whole body was blue. He was literally frozen."

Harrop estimated that survival time in the water in those conditions is about 15 minutes.

He emphasized that the Coast Guard appreciates any help it gets from other boats to its Urgent Marine Information Broadcasts like this one. "Even if you had just said, 'I'm at this spot and I don't see anything,' that would be a big help," he told Collet and Meloy.

But they and their passengers did much more than that. They turned around and went back out to sea on that awful day, and they already had their reward for that: They know they helped save two men's lives.
 

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Great rescue at sea.....
It is people like that Capt. and the fishing crew who are the true heros. Thanks, Night

Sean
 
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