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Two on sinking boat aid rescuers

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Anchored about 20 miles offshore, Bradley Fitchett and Johnny Grant went to sleep aboard the Angler Management intending to wake up early and fish.

But the two awoke about 1 a.m. Sunday to find their 32-foot fishing boat taking on water. Bailing was futile. The boat was going down.

So they hopped into an eight-man life raft. Before they abandoned ship, however, they tethered the boat's EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) to the life raft.

Their EPIRB distress signal was picked up by satellite at the Coast Guard's district headquarters in Miami, and an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was dispatched from the Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater.

About a mile away from the last known position fixed by the EPIRB (20 miles west of Treasure Island), helicopter pilots Lt. Charlotte Pittman and Lt. Nahfhon AlmanMoss saw a blinking light from the life raft through their night vision goggles.

When Fitchett and Grant fired a flare, the pilots knew it was them.

When the pilots came upon the covered life raft, one of the two men was hanging out the back, waving, Pittman said. Nearby, the pilots saw part of the stern of Angler Management sticking out of the water.

As the helicopter hovered, a rescue swimmer dropped into the water and swam over to the life raft. He helped Fitchett, 39, of St. Petersburg and Grant, 34, of Indian Shores swim in the calm waters over to a basket that hoisted them into the helicopter.

The fishermen were not injured and were flown back to Air Station Clearwater. They could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

"They were definitely excited," Pittman said. "Their heart rates were up. Everything happened kind of fast for them. They had been through a lot."

The helicopter was on scene 35 minutes after the call was received in Clearwater, Pittman said. Coast Guard officials said they did not know why the boat took on water. But the two men did everything right, Pittman said. They had and used a life raft, flares and EPIRB.

"It was a good rescue," Pittman said. "That's why the EPIRBs are just great. It takes the search out of search and rescue."