TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – One of the toughest kind of search and rescue missions the U.S. Coast Guard performs is in it’s third day of round-the-clock efforts. They are searching for a trio of fishermen missing since their boat capsized during a storm that spawned a tornado that formed over Wilmington Island on Tuesday. That EF-2 funnel cloud tracked northeast, crossing over Fort Pulaski before heading out to sea. The Miss Debbie was found about a mile northeast of Tybee Island.
Commander Tim Eason with the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah says finding the missing crew is challenging. The life raft from their 47 foot boat was afloat, but empty. The crew is in the water. “There are a million variables that come into it, but locating a person in the water is very difficult and that’s why a lot of our search patterns have very tight spacing on the legs so we’re searching the same area multiple times to ensure our highest probability of success.” Eason said.
The Coast Guard has deployed boats and aircraft in a round the clock rotation to find the fishermen off the northern Georgia coast. They are pulling in resources from Florida and South Carolina to help find the men. Computers and science are taking a lot of the guesswork out of the search patterns. “They have a tool called SAROPS, which is Search and Rescue Optimization Planning System(SAROPS) and SAROPS will create drift models.” Those models can handle a wide variety of scenarios, taking in a combination of factors, then predict the best places to search. Eason says the execution of those searches is thorough, but it feels like finding a needle in a haystack. “That’s exactly what it feels like. Especially if you’re looking for a person in the water because typically if someone is in the water, only your, the thing visible from the air is from the shoulders up, ya’ know, the only thing that’s above water.” Eason said.
It appears none of the missing fishermen were wearing personal locator beacons, those powerful little locating devices that do not rely on cell signals. Personal locator beacons, PLB’s, cost around $300 and use satellite positioning. Eason says they take the search out of search and rescue, whether it’s at sea or onshore. “Someone that’s going hiking, if they find themselves in distress, it does take the search out because it takes us to their exact location, where they are so we can then effect a rescue and make a difference.” said he recommends 406 megahertz personal locator beacons for both boaters and all outdoor enthusiasts who visit remote areas.