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Story by U.S. Coast Guard,
7th District Public Affairs

YANKEETOWN, FL - AIR STATION CLEARWATER RESCUES THREE MEN : A Coast Guard HH-60 helicopter crew from air station Clearwater rescued three fishermen early this morning in the vicinity of Yankeetown, Fla. despite high winds and torrential rains.

The three residents of Deland, Fla. filed a float plan with a friend and the vessel's owner before setting out yesterday.  The boat's owner contacted the Coast Guard at approximately 8:47 p.m. Monday, when he realized his friends were overdue.  Despite heavy thunderstorms, a 27-foot boat from Station Yankeetown was launched in tandem with the helicopter from Air Station Clearwater.  The Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission collaborated with Coast Guard crews in the search.

As weather conditions deteriorated in the Tampa Bay area, Alvin Gray, 65, Donald Yazell, 63, and Homer McMillen, 65, began having engine trouble on their 18-foot boat.  The trio began a five-hour effort to walk and swim their boat into shore, somewhere north of Yankeetown.

"Petty Officer Rob Morgan was the rescue swimmer onboard who spotted a fire as we were two-thirds done with our search and rescue flight," says co-pilot Lt. Brian J. McLaughlin.  As Lt. Matt Furlong commanded the flight, the crew spotted a flare leading them directly toward the stranded men.  The rescue swimmer was lowered and confirmed these were the men reported missing.  An FWCC vessel collaborated with the air crew on site, where winds exceeded 25 knots at times.  Working cooperatively, crews determined the safest method of rescue was via helicopter hoist.  There were no reported injuries.

The trio, who had three flares onboard, used two to start a fire on a tiny island in the tangle of mangrove trees near the mouth of the Wacasassa River.  They saved the third flare to alert rescuers.  "That made all the difference," said McLaughlin.

"This is an incredible case," McLaughlin stated.  He added the men were rescued at approximately 4:30 this morning.  "It's always a great day when you safely rescue people."  The fishermen also had personal flotation devices and a Global Positioning System (GPS) onboard.  The Coast Guard strongly emphasizes the importance of having safety equipment in good working order.  Mariners are encouraged to have the following equipment; a marine VHF radio, life jackets and flares.  The Coast Guard also encourages mariners to have working Emergency Positioning Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRB) onboard, and most importantly enroll in a safe boating course.  An EPIRB is a small battery-powered transmitting device used in an emergency when a marine radio is inoperable or out of range.  EPIRB signals are detected by satellites that pass overhead and assist the Coast Guard in homing in on your location.

Having a properly equipped vessel is important.  Preparing a Float Plan is no less important.  The Float Plan assisted the Coast Guard in narrowing its search area, and successfully rescuing Gray, Yazell, and McMillenKey who were stranded on a desolate shoreline.

Safety is simple when you have a plan™
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