Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Twice the rescuer, hero says: 'It was luck ... pure coincidence'


Gus Hertz knew the plane was going to crash. • It was descending too fast, and the wind was too strong. • Hertz' plan for a relaxing afternoon of fishing was over. • "I thought, 'Oh, no, I can't believe this is happening,' " said Hertz, 37. "I knew he was going to crash before he even went into the water." • So for the second time in two days, Hertz — here for summer vacation from Roanoke, Va. — rushed to the rescue.

Just a day earlier, he and another man were hailed as Good Samaritans when they pulled a driver from a car that veered into the water near the Isla Key Bridge.

Hertz' instincts again took over Thursday when he saw the plane crash in a channel near the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

Hertz dropped his fishing rod, raced to the plane and dragged the pilot and his passenger into his four-person boat and headed to shore.

Emergency responders took over once they arrived at O'Neill's Marina nearby.

Like Wednesday, Hertz made a quick exit, leaving before the news media arrived. He didn't want the spotlight.

St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue officials already were making plans to honor Hertz for his actions Wednesday when officials realized he was the rescuer in Thursday's plane crash.

"He barely took a thank you and just left," said fire Lt. Joel Granata. "He was just at the right place at the right time — two days in a row. That's incredible."

Rodney Tyoe and his family gathered Thursday afternoon at a strip of beach in Tierra Verde for a familiar tradition: plane rides in his 28-foot wingspan ultralight.

Tyoe, a 74-year-old former St. Petersburg firefighter, has owned the plane for more than a decade.

The aircraft had climbed to about 100 feet when it began to be buffeted by winds, Tyoe told authorities. He descended to roughly 30 feet when gusts flipped the craft over and into the water.

Hertz was about 400 to 500 yards away. When he reached the plane, he said, Tyoe immediately signaled he was okay. He only had a cut lip.

Tyoe's passenger, Gina Zimmerman, his son's girlfriend, was in more pain.

"We laid her down," Hertz said. "She didn't want to move. She kept saying, 'Don't touch me! Don't touch me!' "

Hertz, a performance manager for Bank of America, didn't find out until hours later that Zimmerman was okay. She was treated at Bayfront Medical Center for minor injures. Tyoe refused medical treatment.

Tyoe's daughter, Juanita Baker, 54, of St. Petersburg, said she's sure her father will keep flying.

"He's not going to give it up now," she said after hugging him at the marina and making sure he was safe. "We're happy. It's going to be a wonderful Father's Day."

• • •

Stephanie Hertz thought her husband was calling with bad news Thursday afternoon.

"I thought the boat wasn't running or something," she said. "When he said what happened, I thought, 'Oh my gosh!'

"But I'm not surprised he did this. This is the kind of person he is."

She called to tell her parents about Hertz's second rescue. They had taken the couple's two older children to a Tampa Bay Rays game. Then she waited with their two younger ones for her husband to return to their vacation rental near the Pinellas Bayway.

It's the same condo where the family was Wednesday morning when they noticed a fisherman in a boat waving frantically for help. A partly submerged BMW was nearby.

Hertz ran downstairs as his wife called 911.

He and the fisherman, St. Petersburg resident Kevin Daly, jumped into the water and freed a man who had suffered a diabetic episode and driven off the side of the road, down an embankment and over a seawall into the Intracoastal Waterway.

"It's unbelievable," said Tom Baldini, Hertz's father-in-law. "We couldn't be more proud. That's Gus."

But the man himself shied away from the praise, ignoring his family's "hero" talk.

"I pulled people out of the water. I gave them a boat ride," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time. ... It was luck. Pure coincidence."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff photographer Leah Millis contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at or (727) 893-8643.

Twice the rescuer, hero says: 'It was luck ... pure coincidence' 06/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 4:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Officially official: Malik Zaire, Jake Fruhmorgen join Florida Gators


    It's finally, officially official: Malik Zaire has joined the Florida Gators.

  2. Support for gay marriage surges, even among groups once wary


    NEW YORK — In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey.

    People gather in Washington's Lafayette Park to see the White House lit up in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage legal. In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey released on Monday, June 26, 2017. [Associated Press]
  3. June 26 marks the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series.
  4. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy


    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]
  5. Philando Castile family reaches $3 million settlement in death


    MINNEAPOLIS — The mother of Philando Castile, a black motorist killed by a Minnesota police officer last year, has reached a nearly $3 million settlement in his death, according to an announcement Monday by her attorneys and the Minneapolis suburb that employed the officer.

    A handout dashboard camera image of Officer Jeronimo Yanez firing at Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., July 6, 2016. [Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension via The New York Times]