Sandy Williamson and crew, rescued by USCG between Miami and Bimini on 2013-10-27, using an Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 to initiate distress call. Datrex’s Patrick Brunosson met with Sandy Williamson two days after his rescue to talk about the experience. It was a happy ending to a potentially lethal incident.
Sandy and his crew, Corey, left Miami Sunday morning on a fast run between Miami and Bimini Island. The vessel was well equipped with all safety equipment per USCG regulations plus a rescueME PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) that includes a 66 channel GPS. The PLB was manufactured by Ocean Signal in the UK and supplied by Westpac Marine in Tacoma WA. Sandy and Corey also carried cell phones but were out of range being 18.6 nautical miles from shore. (The cell phone coverage in the area is typically 12-15 miles.)
Sandy saw that they were taking on water fast and would need rescue and told Corey to turn on the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB as the vessel was sinking fast. They were able to grab life jackets, flotation cushion, two fenders which later in the water Sandy stuffed into a duffle bag, a cell phone, and the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB.
While the emergency progressed Sandy had many thoughts flying through his head. Primary was making sure the younger crew, Corey, stayed alive. Sandy’s thoughts then went to his wife Debbie, 4 kids and 7 grandkids, and all the great moments they had had together.
The PLB was properly positioned and initiated at 11:00 AM when they were floating in the ocean with 2300 feet of dark water below them. USCG informed them later that they had received the location and registered information by 11:03 AM. USCG quickly determined that the signal was valid by calling Sandy’s brother, and initiated the rescue operation by launching a helicopter from Miami.
The rescue helicopter arrived on the scene not long after, passing over them twice in a crossing pattern at about 1000 ft (This is routine, Sandy was told, to scan and find the intersection of maximum signal strength of the 121.5 MHz homing frequency. Upon determination of the exact location of the PLB and observing two persons, the helicopter flew in again at a lower altitude directly above them and hovered. A rescue diver was dropped and they were hoisted aboard in textbook manner by a very professional USCG crew. Sandy and Corey were shaken and wet, but in good health.
PLBs are not mandatory equipment in the United States yet. They are mandatory in other countries with amazing results in reducing loss of life at sea by increasing survivability from a sinking vessel or man overboard situation. A GPS enabled, properly registered PLB simplifies a rescue operation by the Coast Guard or other rescue agencies by directing them to about 100 yards from where the PLB is transmitting, virtually anywhere in the world. PLBs, as they continue to get smaller and with longer life batteries, are being carried by a growing number of safety conscious mariners, often attached directly to their safety gear. They are easily packed in a pocket or jacket or even inside an automatic inflating lifejacket.