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Two men rescued miles off Pine Island after water scooter dies in gulf

PINE ISLAND — It was supposed to be a two-hour test ride.

Longtime buddies Daladier Faust and Jacob Crooms left Pine Island on a 1999 Yamaha water scooter about 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Crooms had just bought the craft, and the men, both 22, told Faust's girlfriend to call the Coast Guard if they weren't back in four hours.

They were on their way back when the scooter died about 2 miles off the Hernando County coast. The sun disappeared beyond the horizon; lights along the shore twinkled in the distance.

The men wore life jackets but had no cellphone, radio, flares or food. Both military trained, the men figured help would arrive eventually.

About 12 hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter appeared in the distance.

"It was like Christmas," Faust recalled Monday morning.

• • •

Jenny Phillips didn't panic, but she made the call.

Phillips, 21, and Faust recently got out of the Marines and now share a stilt home, owned by Faust's parents, near Alfred A. McKethan Park on Pine Island. Crooms is an Army specialist from Tampa who bought the scooter from his stepmother and wanted to try out his new toy before returning to duty at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Phillips figured they didn't go far enough to make it into deep water.

"I knew they'd be fine," she said.

When the men weren't back by 10:30 p.m., she called the Hernando Sheriff's Office. The agency sent its helicopter to search along with a Coast Guard crew from the Clearwater air station. By 4 a.m. Monday, a heavy fog had fallen, forcing the helicopters back to land. Marine units from the Sheriff's Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission also scanned the waters.

The parents of Faust and Crooms didn't find out the men were missing until about 7 a.m. Monday. Crooms' mother, Lori Lockard of Odessa, didn't stay as calm as Phillips.

"I did what any mother would do and freaked out," Lockard said.

Faust's parents worried, too.

"Their military training gave me some comfort," said his mother, Mila Faust. "I knew they could survive."

• • •

Faust and Crooms say they didn't panic when the scooter, which Crooms bought for $1,000, wouldn't start again.

"We just decided to stay with it because at that point we didn't have anything to tie it down with," Crooms said.

They rationed sips from a half-full Gatorade bottle as the saunalike conditions of the day turned cold in the dead of night. Storms stayed at bay, but the darkness of the water, though likely no deeper than 7 or 8 feet, was unnerving.

"That was a little bit of a fear factor there, but nothing big," Faust said. "It wasn't anything we weren't ready for. We did what we needed to do, and luckily nothing got worse."

The friends have known each other for about a decade and graduated in 2009 from Sickles High School in Tampa. Bobbing on the water, waiting for help to arrive, they recalled old stories of adventure.

None matched this one, Faust said.

"We remembered saying if we ever got into a situation like this, we'd like it if we were with each other," he said.

After the sun rose, the men spied the helicopter and waited for the crew to catch sight of them. By 8 a.m., they were being hauled aboard, tired and hungry — but safe. They were flown to the Coast Guard's Clearwater air station and were back at Faust's house in Pine Island by 10 a.m., hugging Phillips and their parents.

The scooter, which apparently had a mechanical malfunction, made it back, too, but Crooms wasn't very excited about it.

"As far as I'm concerned," he deadpanned, "it can stay at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerottimes on Twitter.

Two men rescued miles off Pine Island after water scooter dies in gulf 06/17/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 10:39pm]
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