6 boaters rescued from stormy Tampa Bay after boat capsized
Rogue wave flips disabled craft
1:54 AM, Sep 16, 2013
7:28 AM, Sep 16, 2013
TAMPA - When Harrison Mettling and five of his friends set out for a day of fishing, they never expected to be the ones who were fished out of Tampa Bay.
"We saw the storm coming in. We thought we could get in in time. And then it was a little rough," said Mettling. "It wasn't that bad, and then a rogue wave came out of nowhere and rolled us over."
Mettling, 24, said the once tranquil bay near Weedon Island became more like high seas, and six foot waves began pummeling the 18-foot boat. The craft's bilge pump seemed to be emptying the water fast enough, until a cord got tangled in the boat's propeller, effectively shutting down the motor.
The helpless boat, unable to steer or power through the waves, capsized.
"When the boat flipped over, it hit me in the head and I was kind of seeing stars for a little bit," Mettling said. "I couldn't figure out where was up."
Mettling managed to come to his senses, and during the next two hours, swam nearly two miles to shore.
Jared Lyons, 24, and girlfriend Brittany Whitten, 23, recalled the force of the rainfall.
"It hurt," Whitten said. "It felt like needles."
The Lakeland couple said after setting out in the morning, the weather was virtually perfect until late afternoon.
"We got the worst of it. We got turned upside-down," Lyons said.
For Whitten, it was her first time fishing. It might be her last for some time.
"It was terrifying," Whitten said. "But I caught a fish," she said, trying to put humor in a frightening experience.
The Tampa Police marine unit responded to the emergency call. Their boat reached three of the boaters who were struggling in waist deep water. It was too shallow to get them by boat, so officer Randy Lopez got into the bay and reached them in person.
Lyons and Whitten were rescued by a passerby.
"it's a recipe for disaster if you're not prepared out there on the water," Lopez said, noting that none of the boaters was wearing any life jackets.
"This is a prime example that if they had the life jackets on, they could have been safe," Lopez said.
Mettling said he won't make that mistake next time.
"Whenever you see a storm coming in, put on your life jackets and get in as quickly as possible," Mettling recommended. "Don't try to wait and catch that last fish. Go ahead and head home."