Scallop boat sinks in seconds; 2 men rescued
By JULIA GLICK Staff Writer, (609) 272-7213
Press of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY - The Coast Guard rescued two men from a survival raft after their fishing boat sank 20 miles offshore in Wednesday's snowstorm, authorities said.
John Phillips III, 35, and Ian Iysenbach, 20, the sole crew of a small scallop boat called the Chico Bravo, struggled in 40-degree water for 25 minutes and shivered for more than an hour in a life raft buffeted by tall waves and hard winds.
"We bounced around for I don't know how long," Phillips said in a phone call from the hospital. "We just listened for signals and tried to stay alive. We had to cuddle together to keep our body heat."
The Coast Guard treated the men, who later went to the regional trauma center at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center - formerly Atlantic City Medical Center - with mild hypothermia, Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Kimberly Smith said. Phillips was in fair condition Wednesday night and Iysenbach was released, authorities said. Phillips said his pet Siberian husky, ******, drowned.
The 45-foot scallop boat sank east of Atlantic City at about 2 p.m., Smith said. It was taking on water, but neither Phillips nor the Coast Guard knew why.
Phillips, the captain, noticed something felt wrong, signaled to Iysenbach to get the life raft and then the boat plunged straight down, sinking in 10 seconds, he said.
The wheel room went underwater. Phillips broke the glass with his head to escape. Then he swam out from under the falling boat. The water numbed and burned his body, he said.
The men found each other and fumbled for 25 minutes in the rough seas to pull the cord and inflate the raft. Then they climbed on. The dog was gone.
The waves were 6 to 8 feet high, the winds were gusting 20 miles an hour and the oncoming snowstorm was clouding visibility, Smith said.
The boat's electronic distress signal alerted the Coast Guard that something was amiss with the Chico Bravo, and rescue crews set out from Atlantic City and Cape May. But a nearby fishing boat arrived first to help the stranded men.
The Captain Collet, a charter fishing boat out of Atlantic City, was heading back to shore because of the worsening weather conditions when the crew heard the Coast Guard dispatch over the radio. Ed Collet, the boat's owner, recognized the Chico Bravo as his dock neighbor and wanted to help.
Collet and Cindy Meloy, the captain, both of whom were trained in CPR and rescue techniques, asked the six paying passengers if they wanted to ride an hour in the storm to check on the distress signal.
They voted unanimously to go.
Meloy spotted a bobbing orange speck about 11/2 miles away from the distress-call coordinates. The fishing boat reported the new location to the Coast Guard. Then they rode up beside the life raft.
"The waves were huge," Meloy said. "They were just bouncing. You would see them, and then you wouldn't see them because they would be under the waves. They were just getting tossed around like ping-pong balls."
Collet and Meloy tried to help, but the scallop men said they were too weak to climb aboard the Captain Collet, Collet said.
A Coast Guard cutter from Cape May and a helicopter from the Atlantic City Air Station arrived 10 minutes later. The cutter sent a small motorboat into the roiling waters and rolled the men aboard, Smith said. A paramedic treated the men aboard the cutter as it returned to the Atlantic City Coast Guard station.
From the hospital, Phillips thanked the Coast Guard and the crew of the Captain Collet for saving his life.
Collet and Meloy said what they did was just good seamanship.
"Once we heard the name of the boat and who they were, we were not going to sleep at night if we did not go out there," Meloy said.
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