This past week the Adventure Antigua crew took part in a private first aid course put on by ABSAR. Nine of us were given instruction by Jonathan at the very nice conference room above the Verandah Resort and Spar.
The resort is quite slow at the moment unfortunately for them, but for us this off season slowness is the best time to get training and maintenance done. The last time we did the course we did is on our Eco Tour boat and I think it was a much better decision to have it at the Verandah.
Apart from it being easier to watch short first aid training clips in a proper conference room, the breakfast and lunch at Verandah were a great treat for all of the team.
Jonathan, from ABSAR reminded me that the last time he personally did training with our team, my crew had to use the lessons they had learned out on the water in a real life and death situation. Here’s a copy of that experience from 2007
Friday, February 23, 2007
Stop the press!!!! Adventure Antigua crew saves lives!………….
At about 11 am today I get a call from Jonathan Cornelius of ABSAR (Antigua and Barbuda Sea and Air Rescue) who is telling me he’s just heard my boat calling the coast guard to request medical support. Jonathan said he couldn’t hear properly but thought he heard something about “taking on water”. Could the unimaginable be happening? How? I immediately got on the phone with Tony who as skipper is required to have his phone on him while at the helm. No reply! I tried three more times before I got through. I asked desperately what the hell was going on.
Tony, almost out of breath, starts telling me that he and Francis had just saved 6 school children and one adult. They just pulled up into the mangrove habitat between Guiana Island and the mainland where there is a small channel that is commonly known as The Narrows. As they arrived, they came upon a chaotic and horrific situation. There were 7 people drowning right in the middle of The Narrows. The water there is between 6 and 12 feet deep and the channel between the island and mainland is about 70 feet wide. Apparently a school group of about 30 kids with between 3-5 adults had been trying to get from the mainland to the island using a kayak. It would appear that not one of the group knew how to swim properly. This fact may be hard for people outside of Antigua to believe, but I assure you that this is the norm here in Antigua. Only a fraction of our population knows how to swim outside of shoulder depth. Sad but true.
Anyway, they speed up to the immediate area, and Tony grabs the boat fenders and jumps off the boat. There is one child almost lifeless on the bottom 8 feet below and two others beneath the surface going down. Three others are flailing on the surface with a helpless adult. All of them appeared to be in the process of drowning. Because Tony had left the fenders on the surface for the people who hadn’t yet sunk below, he was able to swim down and clutch onto the almost lifeless girl. As soon as she made the surface she began to vomit water as Tony took her to the mainland. Francis had already left Louis at the helm of the boat and had joined Tony in the water. He also took a child from below the surface. I think Tony made it back for the other and together with Francis managed to help get all seven to the shore. One of the Eco Tour guests actually jumped in to help as well. We had a full boat of guests while all of this was happening. In the bacchanal, Louis had the good thinking to throw an anchor to keep the boat close allowing him to keep the engines out of gear.
Tony tells me that he was totally blown away with the body’s ability to hang on to life. He was sure that one of the girls was going to die……but she managed to involuntary throw up all that sea water in order to survive.
After getting back on the boat, Francis called the coast guard to let them know of the situation. One of the adults had a car on the mainland side and assured our crew that they were ok and could go along on their tour. I had called back Jonathan at ABSAR and told him that from the report Tony had given me, I thought an ambulance was a good idea even though everyone seemed to be stable.
There are several crazy things to add to this story which just make you wonder.
The first thing to consider is that I hired Jonathan from ABSAR to do a proper marine first aid course for my crew all day this last Saturday and all day on Monday. Some of the crew had done it before and some were new to first aid and sea rescue. One of the things he told them during the two days of instruction was that if they ever had to jump in the water to save someone in trouble, they should not go empty handed. “Take something that floats…like a fender or life ring or jackets”. Louis tells me that if Tony hadn’t taken the fenders when he first hit the water then there is no way that all of them would have been saved.
The second thing that is strange is that if Tony and Francis hadn’t gotten the boat working properly by putting in the extra effort then we wouldn’t have come all the way that far into The Narrows. We hadn’t been there this week at all until today!
One last thing that is strange is that the disaster just happened to be unfolding at the exact moment that my boat turned the corner into The Narrows.
I think this episode needs to spur some kind of positive action in several different areas. First I think the guys need some kind of hero award. I will speak to the Prime Minister’s Office about that. Another thing that I would like to put some energy into is some sort of Swimming Trust Fund. The kids of this country should be able to swim. This is crazy. I think if the kids did swim the island would be a better place. Anyway, this is something for me and others to think about. In the meantime this is just a bit of news that involves some of my great crew.
Hopefully we don’t have to put last weeks training into practice too quickly but after the course I feel like I’m in a better position to help in a bad situation. Taking First Aid training is so important and something that we should all do.
I don’t think any of the excursion boats in Antigua have AED devices on board, but I think we should look into getting them. They are crazy expensive but could very well save a life some day.