Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

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

ST. PETERSBURG

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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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