IRMA: Coast Guard saves couple on boat during storm

By Saundra Weathers, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, September 11, 2017, 10:25 PM EDT

A United States Coast Guard crew from Clearwater saved a couple and their dog from trouble they were having in the gulf just as Hurricane Irma was barreling towards the U.S.

  • Couple from the Florida Keys were evacuating before storm hit
  • Engine failure, loss of control prompted call for help
  • Couple rescued via diver, helicopter

Pamela Blanchard, her husband Louis and their dog live on their sailboat in the Florida Keys. On Sept. 6, they set sail west, hoping to evacuate from the Keys before Irma's arrival.

According to Pamela, when they set their course, they thought the storm was headed east. By Saturday, however, they ran into rough weather, and after talking to a friend they realized the powerful storm had shifted west.  

The couple said they could no longer control their sailboat and their engine failed too. They went below deck and tried to contact the Coast Guard but had no luck, so they contacted a friend who helped the Coast Guard reach them.

When they were finally able to communicate with the Coast Guard, they learned conditions were too dangerous to attempt a rescue on Saturday. On Sunday, however, they were located by a Coast Guard helicopter about 100 miles from Apalachicola.  

“The helicopter rescue diver, rescue swimmer swam, got us, we hopped in the water and he took us individually back to the helicopter and back here and our little dog too," said Louis. "Thank God for the Coast Guard."

Petty Office Elliot Ross, the rescue swimmer who helped save them, called the rescue one of his most difficult cases.

"I got into the water and it was about a 40 mile an hour winds and 25 foot seas, which were pretty big," said Ross. "I approached the vessel, took a little bit of work, but I climbed on board made sure everyone was safe and accounted for."

Pamela said the Coast Guard flew them to New Orleans, where they are staying with friends. Though their boat is still floating somewhere in the gulf, both she and Louis said they're lucky and thankful to be alive.

“I don’t even know how to explain it," Pamela said. "I mean, I wasn’t sure we were gonna make it."