PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office released body cam video that shows the dramatic rescue of 10 people who were in the Gulf of Mexico, near Anclote Key Island on Sunday, when their pontoon boat flipped over in rough seas.

  • 13 people rescued from Gulf near Anclote Key Island
  • Body cam video shows dramatic rescue
  • 3 rescued before Marine Unit arrived; deputies rescued 10 remaining

“Sadly we could’ve been talking about a mass casualty out there,” said Sheriff Chris Nocco. “You talk about heroes, this is absolute heroism… what they did.”

Corporals Russ Meissner and Mitch Bollenbacher were in the process of getting their Marine Unit boat blessed at the annual ‘Blessing of the Ships’ at Gulf Harbors when the rescue call came in at 2:51 p.m.  A 20-foot pontoon boat carrying 13 people was swamped in the 3-foot waves and flipped over.

(Left to Right: Corp. Mitch Bollenbacher, Corp. Russ Meissner, and Sheriff Chris Nocco. Courtesy of Josh Rojas/Spectrum Bay News 9)

Sheriff Nocco said within 10 minutes of receiving that distress call the Pasco Marine Unit had already rescued one man from the water who was not wearing a life preserver. The second man they plucked from the water was holding onto his life vest instead of wearing it. 

Nocco said a dolphin site-seeing boat, the Odyssey 2, actually provided those life vests to the victims.

“Those life preservers that you see the victims in, in the water,” he said. “They came from that boat.”

At least four of the victims did not know how to swim, according to the sheriff’s office.

Another pontoon boat captain rescued three of the victims before the corporals arrived.  The remaining victims were floating on the overturned pontoon boat.  The Pasco Marine Unit rescued those 8 victims, one-by-one.  Which got complicated when one of the women dove head first into the water without any prompting.

“At one point, we had one person jump in the water. Not really too sure exactly why,” said Corp. Meissner. “She went under the water and we actually lost sight of her for a little bit.”

The video shows her pop up near the rescue boat gasping for air.  The corporals were able to pull her to safety. 

“This is the most we’ve ever picked up at one time,” said Meissner.

The corporals said the rescue pushed the capacity of their boat, which is 10.  They ended up going to shore with a total of 12 people on-board that rescue boat.

“You get one person that goes in the water and you get them out, it’s a good day,” said Corp. Bollenbacher. “But to do it 13 times without anyone seriously injured is a miracle.”

Sheriff Nocco praised Congressman Gus Bilirakis for providing the agency with that new rescue boat.  Nocco also said anyone who wants to go out on the water should take notice of small boat advisory warnings, which was issued on Sunday. 

FWC is investigating the cause of the accident.