A 12-year-old girl proved her mettle as a mate when she found herself among 15 people — most of them with disabilities — aboard a grounded pontoon boat with a closing window of time for a safe rescue.
The Michigan residents were returning from Fourth of July fireworks when they missed a turn, ran out of gas and drifted onto a deadfall somewhere in the Grand River, although they weren’t quite sure where in the dark, according to a report by the Grand Haven Tribune.
A Coast Guard watchstander spoke with the girl, who said 13 of the people aboard the pontoon were deaf, three had asthma and did not have their medication, and one person had recently been in a car accident and was also without medication.
Meanwhile, TowBoatU.S. Capt. Brian DeVries of Grand Haven got a call from his company’s dispatch service about a stranded boat. DeVries had the GPS coordinates, but he had trouble finding the right radio channel to communicate with the boat.
“They were flashing a lantern — I was using the horn,” DeVries said. “Amanda [the 13-year-old] was talking to the Coast Guard, letting us know when I was getting closer.”
The group went through several cellphones as batteries drained, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Justin Olson of Station Grand Haven.
DeVries said he got within a couple hundred yards of the boat but kept running into shallow water, despite several attempts at different approaches.
Olson said his crew had just tied up when the request for their help came at about 1:30 a.m. Knowing that none of their boats could get into the shallow area where the pontoon was aground, the crew responded to East Grand River Park in Grand Haven with their inflatable ice rescue skiff. Olson said a three-man crew loaded up life jackets and crossed the river.
The Coast Guard moved the cold and wet group — two to three at a time — off the pontoon and to the towboat. Some were suffering from mild hypothermia, and others were in need of medication.
“This is the perfect example of how something can turn tragic really quick,” Olson said. “What that young girl, Amanda, did — being able to calm all those adults, being able to maintain her composure the whole time — is astounding.”