FWC honors Lorida man in rescue
JOE SEELIGLORIDA - It was a cool, windy night last March when Gary Albin and his wife Janice, owners of Trails End Fishing Resort on Lake Istokpoga, got a call from Highlands County 911 dispatchers that a pontoon boat was sinking and lives were at stake.
Published: October 20, 2012
Published: October 20, 2012
Gary Albin was honored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for his part in saving three, possibly seven, anglers' lives on March 23.
"Without Mr. Albin's assistance, at least three elderly occupants onboard likely would have perished," said FWC Lt. Joe Allen, who nominated Albin for a "Service Commendation" award.
The group was night fishing for crappie aboard a 26-foot, aluminum pontoon boat, anchored about three-tenths of a mile west of Trails End Fishing Resort when, at about 9 p.m., the right pontoon began taking on water, an FWC news release stated.
Waves were 1-to-2-feet high and the water temperature was a chilly 65 degrees, the report stated. Outside temperatures between Avon Park and Venus hovered between 56 and 65 degrees that night, according to www.weathersource.com historical weather data.
At the time of the call, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office had no vessels available to respond, and help from the FWC was not immediately available on the lake.
"The operator of the craft, Henry E. Padgett, … of Sebring, attempted to maneuver the sinking pontoon boat to the Cow House boat ramp, where Trails End Resort is located, but managed to get only part-way there before the vessel swamped," the report stated.
"A call from one of the passengers to the Highlands County Sheriff's Office from the sinking vessel started the rescue operation in motion."
A timely call to Albin by the Sheriff's Office produced an immediate response. All the Albins knew was the vessel was on the east side of the big island.
"It's a pretty good-sized lake," Albin said Friday. "At night that complicates things. It can be a challenge just having a general location."
One of the passengers kept her cell phone out of the water and contacted the 911 dispatcher. It was dark, windy and rough water and there was no moon, Albin said.
"When we were starting to approach, she was waving her cell phone in the air," he said, saying they saw her cell phone display. "That's how we were able to locate them."
Three elderly people were in the water quite exhausted, he said, adding four people were straddling the good pontoon at the water line. The rest of the boat was underwater.
"They had been in the water quite a while," he said. "They were all very glad to see us."
Albin, who was in a weakened condition at the time due to a difficult recovery from cancer treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, entered the cold water himself to help some of the victims onto his boat.
"I was in bed when they called," he said. "But the adrenaline just kicked in that night."
He let the boaters use his legs and chest as a ladder to climb aboard, he said.
"My wife Janice was there helping," he said. "We were partners in this rescue. I was the one that was swimming. I guess she's smarter than I am."
The Albins brought all seven passengers to the Cow House boat ramp. Three of the older passengers were hospitalized for hypothermia, including the boat's owner, Franklin Vance, of Lorida.
"I'm pretty sure we had more help than my wife and I," Albin said, speaking of a higher being. "I'm sure we had some other guidance; so it was all good. It's been a blessing for us to be involved with these people. They're very kind and loving."
The partially sunken pontoon boat was recovered and inspected the next day by the FWC's Allen.
"An evaluation of the 38-year-old craft revealed broken deck support welds along the top portion of the starboard pontoon. The holes from the broken welds likely allowed water to fill the pontoon at an ever-increasing rate as the vessel sank…," the report stated.
The boaters were in an area close to a lot of reeds and vegetation.
"So, I'm sure they were in an area where there were a lot of gators," he said. "…They were not as active but we were right in the alligators' habitat."
When asked if he knew the elderly victim's ages, Albin did not. "I'll be 65 next month, so I'm just a pup; at least around here I am."
Visit MyFWC.com/Boating/ for more information on boating safety courses, boating regulations and boating accident statistics in Florida.
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