May 4, 2010

UPDATE....Survivor of boat accident thanks the ‘heroes’ who saved him and his children

By IRENE NOLAN
A family reunion of sorts went terribly awry for Ernest “Lanny” Staples of Holly Spring, N.C., and his two children.

Staples and the children – Jayda, 9, and Dylan, 6 – survived a tragic boat accident in Hatteras Inlet on Saturday, May 1, that claimed the life of one person, the boat captain’s father.

Staples said in a phone interview today that he and his children would not have survived without the efforts of many heroes involved in the rescue.

He and the children came to Hatteras for a weekend of visiting his uncle, Capt. Aaron Aaron of the Tide Runner.

He said it had been five or six years since the two men had seen each other, and they were planning a weekend of going to the beach and fishing with their children.

On Saturday, Aaron took the Staples family and his son, Shane, 14, and his father, Bob Aaron, 60, of Virginia Beach for a day of fishing for bluefish on the outer bar of Hatteras Inlet.

Staples said he was just trying to return a cell phone call that came in shortly after noon when a wave hit the boat and it capsized.

The boat overturned, he thinks, between noon and 12:30 p.m.

The five survivors were not picked up until about 4 p.m. by two other charter boat captains. They survived an incredible amount of time in the 59-degree water in the inlet.

“It was a long time, and it seemed like forever,” Staples said.

After the boat overturned, Aaron got all the survivors on the hull of the upside-down boat.

All were wearing life jackets, Staples said, with the exception of Capt. Aaron.  He thinks he gave his life jacket to his father.

“Aaron has been fishing his whole life,” Staples recounted, “and he was really calm and collected, telling us all what we needed to do.”

However, Bob Aaron, who had just had knee surgery, was having trouble in the water and staying on the hull of the boat.

“We tried to keep him on the hull of the boat as long as we could,” Staples said. “Aaron got under the boat and got a rope for his father to hang onto.

That did not work, and eventually Bob Aaron drowned.

All the while, Capt. Aaron and Lanny Staples were trying to keep the children on the hull of the overturned boat.  The two men, Staples said, were in the water the entire time.

“Aaron kept telling us to stay calm.  He said, ‘The fleet is going to come.’”

He was referring to the charter boats that start returning to the docks about mid-afternoon.

He thinks that after an hour or hour and a half, the boat was sinking lower in the water, and a large wave came and knocked all of the children off the boat.

Shane grabbed Jayda and pulled her back onto the hull.

“Without a doubt, he is responsible for my daughter being alive today,” Staples said.

Meanwhile, he said, his son was washed right into his arms, but the two were drifting farther and farther from the boat in the current.

“I tried to get back to the boat, but I knew if I expended any more energy, I could not save us.”

So the father and the son drifted in the current for another hour or more.

Dylan, his father said, was “amazingly brave for a 6-year-old.  I just tried to keep him moving and talking” to prevent hypothermia. “Toward the end, it was pretty scary.”

Eventually, about 4 p.m., the fleet did come.

Capt. Spurgeon Stowe on the Miss Hatteras, a large head boat, saw the overturned boat and radioed to Capt. D.M. Gray, who was behind him, to check it out.

Gray did and found Capt. Aaron, Shane, and Jayda, who by then had been pushed off the boat by waves.

Capt. Steve Richardson on the Backlash was the next on the scene, having heard Gray say that two people were still missing.

Gray went in the direction that some life jackets were floating -- toward the beach.  But Richardson noticed his boat was drifting northeast and struck out in that direction.

He found Staples and Dylan and pulled them aboard his boat.  Luckily, one of his passengers that day was a nurse, who recognized the danger of hypothermia in the boy.  She removed his wet clothing and began warming him up.

The odyssey in the water probably lasted close to four hours, Staples thinks.

He and his family are mourning the death of Bob Aaron, but thankful that all of the others were saved.

The next morning, Staples went to Hatteras Harbor to meet with Richardson.

“I told him, ‘Beyond a shadow of a doubt, if it were not for you, my son and I wouldn’t be here today.’”

Furthermore, Staples says if it hadn’t been for Aaron and his son Shane, none of them might have survived.

“If Aaron hadn’t kept his cool, it would have turned out differently,” Staples said. “And Shane was so incredibly brave. He kept it together and saved my daughter.”

His children, Staples said, are doing fine.  His wife, Leza, was not along on the trip and was horrified to hear of the turn of events. Jayda, he added, has been “quiet and reserved.”

“As a 9-year-old girl,” he said, “she is disturbed by seeing someone pass on as she did.”

However, he said she was being more outgoing and talkative today.

“Without a doubt,” Lanny Staples said, “somebody was watching out for us that day.”






May 2, 2010

One person dies when boat capsizes in Hatteras Inlet, but five are rescued

By JORDAN TOMBERLIN


What began as a family outing and a normal day of fishing for Capt. Aaron Aaron and the five people he took on his boat, Tide Runner, Saturday, May 1, ended with a tragic accident that claimed the life of  the captain’s father and threatened the lives of the others.

Apparently, the 23-foot Tide Runner was fishing just off the outer bar of Hatteras Inlet, targeting small bluefish, when a wave caught them the wrong way, and caused the boat to capsize, though the exact cause of the accident is being investigated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Sometime after the accident occurred, Capt. Spurgeon Stowe, aboard the Miss Hatteras, saw what appeared to be the bow of a boat sticking up out of the water, and called Capt. D.M. Gray on the Native Son to investigate further.

It was around 4 p.m. that Gray found the Tide Runner and rescued the three people who were clinging to the boat.

Around that same time, Capt. Steve Richardson on the Backlash heard Gray say on the radio that two of the people were missing, and he said he immediately started looking for them.

According to Richardson, Gray had seen two life preservers floating toward the shore, and was heading that way to look. That’s when Richardson noticed that his boat was drifting northeast, and he decided to take off looking in that direction.

“It was luck,” he said of finding the two passengers that had been separated from the others, explaining that, considering the direction of the wind, north wouldn’t have seemed like the right direction to go.

But Richardson decided to follow his hunch, and then, there they were, about two miles north of the capsized boat, a father and his 6-year-old son, drifting together in the 59-degree water.
 
“With the waves and the way the wind was blowing, all we could see was an arm, waving,” Richardson said.

They stopped the boat beside near them and quickly began getting them in the boat, starting with the child.

“When I pulled him in, he was completely limp,” said Richardson’s mate, Daniel Caison.

Luckily, a member of Richardson’s fishing party that day was a nurse, and she immediately undressed and pulled the hypothermic child to her body, while the others wrapped them in all the blankets they had on the boat.

According to Richardson, the nurse said that she doubted the child, who had been in the water for several hours already, would have lasted another 30 minutes.

With the child safe and secure, they tossed a rope to the father, who, after ensuring the safety of his son, had all but collapsed, Richardson said. 

“If it hadn’t have been for the two of them being together, neither one would have made it,” he said.
 
After all the passengers were safely aboard the Native Son and the Backlash, the U.S. Coast Guard was radioed in to recover the body of the sixth passenger, Robert Carl Aaron, the father of Tide Runner captain Aaron Aaron.

According to eyewitness accounts, Aaron’s body had been tied to the boat after it was clear that he was unconscious.

The Coast Guard recovered the body with its 25-foot response boat and began CPR. Aaron was taken to the station, where Dare County Emergency Medical Services pronounced him dead.

The Tide Runner has been recovered by Tow Boat USA.

“Wow, what a day,” D.M. Gray posted on his Facebook page yesterday evening. “Could have ended on a better note, but could have been so much worse. Glad that those we got are OK, but sorry for the loss of Aaron’s father. The good Lord was watching out for those people.”

The comment was met with an outpouring of respect and gratitude from friends and community members, including this response from island native Natalie Kavanagh:

“So glad you were there to help them. I don't know how you all saw them in that rough water. Goes to show what the ocean can do and it makes me grateful when you all come home safe every day. So, so sorry that someone did not make it home safe today. Prayers for their family are going all around the island tonight.”


(Editor's note: And earlier version of this story said there was a dog on the boat that it had not been recovered.  According to a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson at Station Hatteras Inlet, the station has had many calls about the dog and sent someone to the Aaron's family's home to inquire about it.  The spokesperson said that, according to the family, there was not a dog on the boat.)



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