From Gulfport, Mississippi and Ravenna, Ohio:
May 24, 2009
A Ravenna native is being hailed in his Gulf Coast adopted hometown as a hero after saving the lives of four people who were missing at sea.
Petty Officer Levi Willett, a Ravenna native and member of the U.S. Coast Guard, helped rescue four people who had been floating in the water at least 18 hours.
Willett said five people, including three police officers had been boating when their boat crashed near Horn Island, about 20 miles off the coast of Gulfport, Miss. The four people who were rescued all were wearing life jackets, and had floated about 16 miles away from the site of the boat crash.
The rescue attempt is big news in the Gulf Coast area, Willett said, because successful rescues are rare.
“Everybody goes out to the Highlands to party for the weekend, and they end up getting caught in the high seas,” he said. “Usually we never find them. Most of the time it’s just disappointing.”
Willett’s team went in search of the lost boaters in their jet. Other members of the team were Commander O’Brien and Lt. Commander Fields, pilots of the jet; Petty Officer Hamilton, the drop master, and Petty Officer Friese. Willett’s role was as one of the observers and a member of the air crew.
The crew’s job was to locate the boaters and toss items to them, such as rafts, so they could be spotted by a rescue helicopter.
The crew had been searching for 3 1/2 hours, and decided to go off the grid to search for them.
“If we hadn’t gone off the grid, we never would have found them,” he said.
Willett looked into the water and saw a small dot, which he said was about the size of a pencil. As the jet drew closer to the boaters, he spotted four red life jackets and the lost boaters frantically waving for help.
“I’ve never been involved in anything like that in my life,” he said. “My adrenaline was going. Everybody was screaming.”
Typically, people can survive at sea only about 18 hours before succumbing to hypothermia, although the time frame varies depending on the water temperature, he said.
Willett said most people don’t realize how important it is to follow proper safety rules when boating. Lifejackets can be important not only to stay above water, but also so rescuers can spot people lost at sea. …..
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