CAPE CHARLES, Va. (WAVY) — The United States Coast Guard and good Samaritans rescued two injured men after their boat caught fire Tuesday dozens of miles off the Virginia coast.
The Coast Guard said watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Virginia Command Center received a notification around 3 p.m. that a vessel had caught fire. It was spotted around 3 p.m., 36 miles east of Fisherman Island.
The watchstanders released an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast, and the good Samaritan vessel responded to help the men.
Shawn Shapiro Sr., Shawn Shapiro Jr., and Captain Mark Clemons were aboard their fishing boat when they saw plumes of smoke in the sky. Without hesitation, they sped in that direction to see if they could help.
Sure enough, the crew found a boat in flames. They thought there was no way anyone was left in the wreck. After a brief look around the backside of the boat, against all odds, they found two men struggling to hang on to the burning structure.
Shapiro detailed the encounter in a Facebook post Tuesday, saying the men had been in the water for about 40 minutes before help arrived.
“If I had to put in into perspective, it looked like this man was wearing latex gloves that had been ripped open and you could see pink meat under that. His eyes were bright red like they’d been colored in with sharpie [marker]. The heat he endured must have been incredible,” said Shawn Shapiro Jr.
His father, Shawn Sr., spoke about having a hard time falling asleep after the rescue. He said he’s grateful the men could return to their families.
The Coast Guard Cutter Dependable arrived after the Shapiros and Clemons pulled the men from the water. The Coast Guard safely took the two men aboard the cutter before a MH-60 Jayhawk aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City medevaced the mariners to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Clemons made it clear the crew didn’t do anything exceptional — other boaters wouldn’t have done in that scenario, he said.
He said the real heroes are the courageous survivors who stuck to the side of their burning vessel despite the chilling waters.
“They would have gone down with that boat. They are the ones we recognize,” he said.
The Shapiros and Clemons were the only people in a 25-mile radius of the wreck. Without them being in the right place at the right time, the Coast Guard says it’s likely this story would have been a lot different.
“The coordination between Coast Guard assets and the good Samaritan who retrieved the two individuals from the water was critical in the life-saving aspect of this case,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erica Elfguinn, the Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator for this case. “The active participation of others on the water is essential to keeping our waterways safe.”
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