Life Jackets Likely Prevented Tragedy in IR Water Rescue
The Indian River Inlet in Sussex County, Del. (Photo: WBOC)
INDIAN RIVER INLET, Del. - Rescue teams said nine people, including seven children, are lucky to be alive after waves swamped their boat in the Indian River Inlet on Sunday afternoon.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said life jackets likely prevented a major tragedy.
"Everyone on the boat, except the operator, at the time of the accident was wearing a life jacket," said Sgt. Gregory Rhodes of DNREC's Enforcement section.
The 21-foot boat was swamped by waves in the inlet just east of the bridge, Rhodes said. Good samaritans arrived first to rescue the survivors, including an infant. Rhodes said foul play is not suspected.
"They took the waves at the wrong speed and the wrong angle," Rhodes said. "After the first wave hit the boat, it simply swamped it, and once it was swamped, everybody was in the water."
No one was seriously injured; one child was treated for a slight cut on his foot.
The boater is from Delaware but DNREC did not release his identity. Rhodes said the operator did not want to speak with reporters.
DNREC enforcement agents and members of the U.S. Coast Guard arrived on the scene.
Boater Rick Urhin of Baltimore saw rescue teams in the inlet. He said the survivors are lucky.
"That water can take you down," Urhin said. "Luckily, they were wearing their life jackets."
While boats have a capacity limit on people and weight, Rhodes said the vessel was likely not considered over capacity because children usually weigh less than adults.
Experienced boaters said the inlet's current is strong and easily underestimated by less experienced boaters.
"The inlet can get pretty rough," said Petty Officer 1st Class Hank Deatrich of the Coast Guard Station Indian River.
Deatrich said conditions are especially tricky when the tide is exiting the Indian River Bay, colliding with ocean waves approaching from the opposite direction. This is known to cause waves or choppy waters.
"When it meets the ocean, the waves tend to stack up and that's usually when the inlet is at its worst condition - when the tide is going out," Deatrich said.
Delaware law requires children age 12 and under to wear a life jacket while a vessel is underway. DNREC said no child in Delaware has died from drowning in a boating accident since the requirement was passed in 1991.
The boat was eventually salvaged and towed to a nearby marina, Rhodes said. The boat operator is unlikely to face any charges.
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