JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., –
On a cold January afternoon, four Sailors from the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command helped save the lives of two local fishermen whose boat had overturned in Lake Moultrie near the Short Stay Navy Outdoor Recreation Area outside of Moncks Corner.
It was Jan. 17 when Richard Hahn, the Short Stay assistant manager noticed an overturned boat approximately one mile off of the recreation area's shoreline. At first glance it appeared to be one of the Morale Welfare and Recreation sailboats available for rent at Short Stay. But all of the MWR sailboats were accounted for.
"I grabbed my binoculars," said Hahn. "I could see there was one person hanging onto the hull of a boat. At that time I didn't know there was a second person in the water."
Understanding that he needed to act quickly, Hahn called Matt Vacher, the Short Stay Marina sailing director. Both men decided to take one of the MWR power boats to get the individual out of the water and see if they could right the overturned boat.
Vacher ran to the boat house to get some equipment they would need and he noticed four Sailors who were finishing their lunch; Petty officers Chandler Mazure, Justin Keene, Sharon Duncan and Juan Avelar, all students from the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. They were working at Short Stay while waiting on orders to their next assignments.
"I asked the Sailors if they wanted to go for a boat ride and it was a good thing I did." said Vacher. "As we approached the boat we saw a second man in the water and without the four Sailors assistance, Hahn and I would have never been able to pull the second guy out."
With one elderly man on top of the overturned boat and one man in the water the rescue crew had to act quickly to save them both. Neither man was wearing a life jacket. Hahn positioned the boat as close as possible to the overturned boat as Keene threw life vests to each man.
"When we got to the boat, Mr. Hahn and Mr. Vacher basically told us what to do and we followed their instructions without hesitating," said Duncan. "I supported the head of the man who was in the water and Avelar and Mazure pulled him into our boat by his belt loops."
The men had been in the water for almost two hours and they were already showing signs of hypothermia. The Sailors provided some of their own dry clothing to the men to help them warm up.
"It really didn't hit for a little while that we were actually out there and that we had helped them," said Duncan. "It's easy to recall it now but everything was a blur then because of the different emotions. We were just going through the motions as we were instructed."
"I coordinated with the Short Stay staff to get an Emergency Medical Services and Department of Natural Resources to the boat landing," said Hahn. "The EMS technicians told me that it was a good thing that we got to them when we did because the two men's core body temperature was at 95 degrees and they would not have made it much longer."
Ten days after the accident, the four Sailors were recognized by their NNPTC chain of command and were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for their lifesaving efforts. On March 7, Col. Richard McComb, Joint Base Charleston commander travelled to Short Stay to show his appreciation for the heroic efforts of Hahn and Vacher and three of the four Sailors by presenting them with his command coin.
"I'm glad we were able to stay level-headed throughout the whole thing and overcome our own fears and nerves because we were able to help these gentlemen get to safety," said Mazure.