STRUTTING THEIR STUFF
A rescue swimmer from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., leaps from a helicopter May 30 during a search-and-rescue demonstration at Fleet Week in New York City.
PLB is a game-changer when a Contender flipsThree boaters who had a personal locator beacon on board were rescued off the Bahamas after their 35-foot express fishing boat flooded and flipped, according to the Coast Guard and the boat’s owner and skipper.
“My wife said, ‘You spend all this money on fishing equipment when it’s pretty apparent [an emergency beacon] is the most important piece of equipment,’ ” says Bruce Mandigo, 58, who has owned the 1997 Contender for about 15 months and has been boating, fishing and diving for 35 years. “And she’s right. As soon as the PLB started flashing we thought that our odds [of survival] had increased drastically.”
Mandigo’s brother, Dave, 48, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Mandigo’s daughter’s boyfriend, Jhade Woodall, of Washington, D.C., were also on board. The three men were on a fishing trip and had anchored for the night in about 55 feet of water some 20 miles northwest of West End, he says. They had left Boynton Beach Inlet at 10 a.m. May 22. The men spent six hours in the water before they were rescued about 6 a.m. the next day.
Mandigo does not know what caused the flooding. He went to sleep in the cuddy cabin about 10 p.m., leaving his mates, who were fishing and talking. “Two hours after that they yelled down to me that the boat was sinking,” Mandigo says. “I got up and I put my foot into a foot of water in the cabin, where two hours prior it was dry.”
With water gushing under the transom door, the boat turtled in only five minutes, he says. Powered with twin 250-hp Suzuki 4-strokes, the Contender has a self-draining cockpit, but the hatches drain into the bilge, Mandigo says.
“First we tried to save the boat,” says Mandigo, who lives in Lantana, Fla., and is the facilities manager at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach. “We had three 5-gallon buckets out. It was useless. The water was coming in so fast. So we said, ‘Let’s get our life jackets.’ ”
Mandigo scrambled to gather the flare kit and handheld VHF while his brother grabbed the PLB. The radio was in a compartment that had already flooded, but it was working. “I made a quick mayday call and told them our location,” Mandigo says.
With the other two already in the water, he grabbed a spotlight and a cooler for flotation. The three decided to separate from the boat, a move safety experts don’t recommend. But the boat had been full of chum and other bait, and the men thought it might attract sharks. Also, it was still anchored, and the current already had pulled Dave Mandigo and Woodall away.
Mandigo estimates the seas were about 2 feet and the water temperature in the mid-80s. The men were dressed in shorts and T-shirts. About two hours after the capsize they realized they had failed to successfully activate the PLB. Its strobe wasn’t blinking, and there were no other signs that it was operating. Woodall, who is in his late 20s, was able to read the instructions on the beacon and activate it. The Mandigo brothers had lost their eyeglasses.
“We tried to raft up as many things that we could find floating,” Mandigo says. “We had our [throwable] life buoy with 30 feet of line and some fenders. It was a long night out there, but we all kept our spirits up.”
With the strobe flashing, the anglers “felt pretty confident it was doing its job,” he says.
And it was. After receiving the signal, Seventh District Coast Guard search-and- rescue coordinators launched the 87-foot cutter Bluefin and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft. The aircraft crew found the men and directed the cutter to them.
“These boaters survived a potentially fatal accident because they were prepared,” Capt. Chris Scraba, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Miami, says in a statement. “They immediately donned their life jackets … and they activated their PLB.”
The Contender, which didn’t go to the bottom and is insured, was salvaged and returned to Mandigo. He is unsure whether he will keep it.
In addition to the PLB and handheld VHF, the boat had a fixed-mount VHF, a fixed-mount GPS and a handheld GPS. “The only thing I would recommend is a [waterproof] ditch bag because when the boat was sinking, I lost time because I was trying to go around and gather my flares and my handheld GPS,” Mandigo says. “In fact, I lost my VHF and flares trying to get off the boat.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.