When the falling tide left a Victory III sightseeing charter grounded on a sandbar, Historic City News was informed that sixty-five senior citizens, many of whom were in their 70’s, were stranded in the St Augustine Inlet and fearful for their safety.
Around 9:45 p.m., after the finale of the July 4th “Fireworks over the Matanzas”, the captain of the Victory III attempted to back off of the beach and return to the Municipal Marina, but he was unable to power the tour boat off the shore.
Sea Tow responded around 10:00 p.m. and attached a stern line to the Victory III. They attempted to snatch the vessel free, but had no luck budging the boat. Several passengers became anxious and began to panic; one reportedly required oxygen due to the stress.
St Augustine Police Marine Unit Corporal, Jerry Whitehead, alerted to the situation, and aided by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officers Mike Millio, Lee Lawshe, Ryan Campbell, Jeff Hickman, and Mike Pedonti, provided assistance to the passengers. As a team, they assisted with emergency evacuation efforts to transport all passengers safely to the St Augustine Municipal Marina.
Law enforcement vessels responding to the Victory III each made three to four runs before midnight when their evacuation mission was complete.
FWC Major Paul Ouellette and St Augustine Police Chief Loran Lueders honored each of the officers at a ceremony held Friday morning at the St Augustine Beach Commission Room; saying that they performed the evacuation in an exemplary manner. “These officers not only accomplished a safe and expeditious evacuation of the stranded vessel, but also provided comfort and reassurance to the elderly citizens during the rescue.”