Fairhope angler rescued after 10 hours in Mississippi water
FAIRHOPE, Ala. (WBRC) - The U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer said only minutes remained before he reached the point of no return. Kevin Olmstead of Fairhope, a veteran angler and fishing guide for more than 20 years, had been in the water in Mississippi Sound for 10 hours after being dumped overboard by a wave as he tried to retrieve a life jacket.
Olmstead was unable to grab the life jacket before he went over the gunwale of his beloved Ranger bay boat, and the outboard, which he thought was in neutral, was still in gear. Olmstead’s tenacity and desire to return to his wife and kids kept him hanging on despite the rough water and effects of hypothermia.
“I told my story because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. The story is ‘can I help someone?’ and not have to go through what I went through, because it was hell.”
Olmstead, 53, was wade fishing in the west end of Dauphin Island when he decided the conditions were getting too rough to stay. He got back in his beached boat and started what should have been a bumpy ride back to Fairhope.
“I was there by myself,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been over there in that kind of weather. I’m kicking myself for not making sure my throttle was in neutral before I unhooked my kill switch to put on a life jacket. At that point, a wave hit the side of the boat and threw me in. As I came up, my head was almost bumping the boat. When I got my wits, I was looking straight at the ladder on the port side. I reached out to try to grab it. I got my index finger on my right hand over the ladder. As the boat pulled me, my finger slipped off.”
Olmstead knew he was in deep trouble.
“I went into panic mode really fast,” Olmstead said. “I knew I had put myself in the worst position I could put myself in. As soon as panic mode started, something calmed and I thought, ‘Now it’s survival mode. You can’t worry about what you just did. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen. I’ve got to figure out how to survive this. It’s 3-foot waves out there,” he said. “One of the hardest things was I was taking 3-foot waves over my head every two to three seconds. I was drinking a lot of saltwater, and I would have to hold my breath. The waves were trying to drown me.”
“An hour went by, and I made it,” Olmstead said. “Then three hours went by, and I thought, ‘I’m still here.’ I had to be my own drill sergeant that day. I had to pump myself up. I had to clear my mind of any negative thoughts. Negativity wasn’t going to help me survive. And I talked to my kids and my wife, like we were sitting on the couch; anything I could do to keep myself calm as possible.”
About 3 p.m., Olmstead started feeling the effects of hypothermia, including convulsions and cramps.
“I knew I had to get to something stationary to have a chance for someone to see me,” he said. It was getting dark, but I told myself that I’ve got to get there. When I got to a point to where it was 10 yards, that was about the time I was about ready to give up the whole day. That was probably 7.”
Somehow, Olmstead managed to reach a barnacle-encrusted piling and got on the up-current side and gripped the piling as lightly as he could with his feet and palms of his hands to keep from getting cut from the razor-sharp shells.
“I was tickled pink to be on that piling, and I wasn’t getting off of it,” he said. “I started seeing a little more boat action. I had seen the Coast Guard jet fly over before I got to the piling, and I knew it had to be for me. Then I saw a boat that looked like it was coming from the rig, and they were going parallel to me. When they got even with me, I thought they were going to keep going. I said, ‘Oh, God, please, please.’ I couldn’t wave because I was afraid, I would fall off the piling.
“I saw them turn and come toward me. It was my buddies Rick Tourne and Kyle Mitternight. Kyle was jumping up and down on the front of the boat when he saw me. That was a wonderful feeling. They got me in the boat, and the Marine Police came along not long after that.”
After Olmstead reluctantly was transferred to the Marine Police boat, a Coast Guard helicopter showed up and dropped a rescue swimmer into the water. The rescue swimmer deemed it too risky to try to lift Olmstead into the helicopter, and he was transported by boat to Bayou La Batre, where he was taken to The University of South Alabama (USA) Hospital via Life-Flight helicopter.
“The rescue swimmer said I had about 20 more minutes and I was going to be gone,” Olmstead said. “He said he wasn’t going to sugarcoat it for me, and he said he knew professionals who couldn’t have done what I just did for 10 hours. He said it was crunch time.”
“There are two things about this that are important. My wife and kids got me through this,” Olmstead said. “Something gave me the strength to make it through, and it was them. I didn’t want to leave them that way.
“Second, and most important, is the life jacket. You think it’s not going to happen to you. I’ve been on the water for more than 30 years. I’m the safest boater that I know. It can happen to you. I’m living proof. Don’t be a hardhead. I survived. I’ve got a great story, but the story is can I help somebody else to not be in that position. That’s the most important thing.”
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