An early morning boat ride on the river was supposed to lead to a day of fishing but instead turned into hours of rescue attempts requiring a helicopter for two Texas men.
Around 6:30 a.m. on December 4, Bart Giles and Stevie Rodriguez hopped in Giles’ boat and headed to a fishing competition, Giles told CNN.
He noted that at this time the light was still low and they could see only what was right in front of them.
As they made their way up the river portion of Lake Amistad, 10 minutes north of Del Rio, Texas, Giles noticed a capsized canoe. He swerved to avoid it but then decided to turn around to check on the vessel in case someone needed help.
That’s when the boat became stuck, and the pair were left stranded.
“Normally this area is covered in water, but it was just mud that day” Giles told CNN.
To see just how soft the ground was, Giles jumped out and sank up to his chest in the mud.
With no cellphone service, the fishermen pulled out their emergency whistle. Giles began making the emergency signal sound, which is three short bursts.
“All of a sudden I hear a dog barking, and I told my fishing partner, ‘If there’s a dog around here, there’s got to be a human.'” Giles explained.
A dog popped up from some brush, and a man followed behind just about 300 yards from the boat on the Mexico side.
“That little $3 whistle is what saved us from having to spend a night out there” Giles told CNN.
The man found the boaters around 10 a.m. and called for help. But it wasn’t until around noon when Texas game wardens located the boat and began the rescue.
The game wardens and the National Park Service (NPS) couldn’t get their boats close enough because of the mud, Giles told CNN.
And when rescue crews contacted Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for help, their helicopters were either out for maintenance or too far to make it before sunset. That’s when San Antonio Police Department Pilots Garrett Hunter and Roy Rodriguez received a call.
“It was getting late in the evening, so we were the closest equipped ship that was available for the call,” Hunter told CNN. They packed up the chopper and were joined by DPS rescue swimmer Sgt. Steve Tippett.
After an hour and 20 minute helicopter ride they arrived at the scene.
“We had about 20 minutes to work with before it was going to be too dark to deal with the obstacles in the area,” Rodriguez told CNN.
It took about 15 minutes to extract both men.
From the time the men got stuck to when they made it back to land was around 10 hours.
Giles’ advice to others going fishing, “Make sure you have all your safety gear and definitely have that whistle.”
The boat has since been recovered and just needs to be cleaned up and fixed with a few pieces of equipment, Giles told CNN.
“This boat is irreplaceable. My grandma bought before she passed,” Giles added. “The last time she went out on a boat or went fishing was on that boat.”
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