Good Samaritans save the day when pontoon boat sinks in Pass

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE

Spring break has sprung as far as Boca Grande firefighters are concerned, as this past week’s roster of events included several boat-in-distress calls and one brush fire in Boca Bay.

On Saturday, March 11 at approximately 5:30 p.m. the Boca Grande Fire Department responded to a call from a vessel sinking in Boca Grande Pass. When they arrived, they found that the occupants of the boat had been pulled out of the water by nearby boaters, and their floating belongings were being retrieved.

Colleen Hibbits, a witness to the incident, said the family was on a pontoon boat and were trying to reach the shallow waters of a nearby sandbar, but their boat was at an odd angle and they were struggling with it. She was with Capt. Matt Coleman when the scene unfolded in front of them.

“Two other boats in the Pass spotted them and sped out to rescue them,” she said. “From the time the boat was spotted until it was totally submerged was about five minutes. Someone said they had been anchored and had a wave or wake come over and swamp them. Boca Grande Pass, as lovely as it may be, is quite treacherous if you’re a novice boater or unfamiliar with the strength of the tides.”

On Tuesday, March 14 the fire department received two calls at the same time, right around 4:38 p.m. The first call was a transport for a back pain patient; the second was a call to pick up a child on Cayo Costa who had cut his arm. The wound was not serious but did require some stitches, so the victim was transported. Also on that same day, there was a call from a boat – a shrimper – taking on water near Cayo Costa. The captain of the shrimper was able to run the boat aground before it sank.

At the same time, a call was coming in from a boat capsized off Captiva, in Redfish Pass. That call was eventually handled by another agency. On Wednesday, March 15 at approximately 2 p.m. another small boat took on water and capsized right off the Boca Grande Causeway. A Charlotte County deputy was right in the area, so that agency handled the call. No one was hurt.

At 2:30 p.m. the fire department responded to a brush fire call in Boca Bay, but it took some time to pinpoint exactly where the fire was. It was called in by a woman on Golden Eye Drive who said she smelled smoke, and it was a good thing she called when she did, said Fire Chief C.W. Blosser. He encouraged all island residents to do the same if they smell smoke. Conditions right now have put fire danger at a high level, and with gusty winds a fire can spread quickly.

“It was in the Preserve land behind Lafitte Street,” he said. “The guys could smell smoke but couldn’t see where it was coming from until they put the ladder from the truck all the way up and reconned the area.”

Blosser said there definitely could have been property loss if that fire had not been quickly contained. It was completely extinguished in about two hours’ time.