Accident

Two Del Rio fishermen were stranded, sinking, until San Antonio rescue team helped save them

A multiple agency team of first responders were fighting against the clock to save the two men.

DEL RIO, Texas — A Saturday fishing trip turned into a rescue mission.

Two boaters found themselves stranded on a remote sandbar off Lake Amistad in Del Rio.

It was early Saturday morning when Bart Giles and a friend were cruising the waters of Lake Amistad.

“We were supposed to be fishing a tournament that day,” said Giles. “We were running up the river, and it’s a route I’ve taken a bunch of times.”

That normal route suddenly took a dangerous turn.

Giles said he took a detour to go back and check a capsized canoe to make sure no one was in need of help.

“Just all of a sudden, the water dropped,” said Giles. “In that early morning light, it looked like water all the way across there, so when I went to turn around, it was just mud.”

Giles’ boat was suddenly stuck on a muddy sandbar.

“When I got out of the boat, I just sunk straight down,” said Giles. “As soon as I stepped off the boat, I was up to my chest in just mud.”

The pair were stranded, and with no cell phone service, they did all they could to call for help.

“What saved me, and the Game Wardens will love this, is the one little thing everybody makes fun of, is just a whistle,” said Giles. 

Giles blew the whistle, and then saw a man on the Mexico side of the river who was able to get to higher ground and call first responders.

“All we can do is just hope somebody sees us, to get someone’s attention, or figure out a way to get out of this,” said Giles.

Three hours had passed when the Texas Game Wardens tried to rescue the pair using their boats, but the attempts were futile. Giles couldn’t get off his boat because of the sinking mud.

“There’s no way I can get to you. You can’t get to me. There’s no good way to do this,” said Giles.

Officials said the Game Wardens called in reinforcement from DPS, but the local choppers were all out for maintenance, and the closest crew was in Houston or Dallas.

That’s when a three person crew from San Antonio stepped in to save the day.

“By the time the call came out, the day was getting short and daylight was running out,” said Garret Hunter, Chief Certified Flight Instructor with San Antonio Police Helicopter Detail.

“We were the last option for them,” said Sgt. Steve Tippett with the DPS Dive Recovery Team.

The team jumped into action, but were fighting the clock to rescue the pair from the boat.

“We were playing against the clock,” said Roy Rodriguez, a Crew Chief and Helicopter Pilot with SAPD. “We had about 20-minute window once we got there before got dark.”

It was a complicated and challenging mission.

“They were incapable of getting off the boat successfully transferring back to the bank, because what they described it, almost like quicksand. Once they stepped off, they sank in the mud,” said Tippett.

The veteran officers were not familiar with the border terrain, but extensive training together prepared them for the challenge.

“We’re constantly doing cross training with other agencies, which enable us to perform these types of missions,” said Tippett. 

“If anything serious should happen in South Texas, we’re all prepared for it,” said Rodriguez.

So, in only 15 minutes, heroes in the air, hoisted the two fishermen from the sinking sand to safety.

They said extensive training with different law enforcement agencies prepared them for the event.

“What helps is that we were on the same sheet of music,” said Rodriguez. “They know what to expect from us, and we know what to expect from them.”

And in a flash, the team was back in the air, on the way to San Antonio.

“They gave me a thumbs up that they were okay, and that’s all the contact we had with them,” said Rodriguez.

And for the guys who were just hoping to win a fishing tournament, Giles said the real award should go to the heroes who came to their rescue.

“Thank you for coming and helping because it was definitely a tough situation,” said Giles. “I just can’t say it enough, we appreciate all the help.”

“They had no idea how long they were going to be there, and so once they saw us flow over, they realized that their day was coming to an end,” said Tippett. “They were they were glad to see us show up.”

Written by Vanessa Croix

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