This is part two of a story I began last week. Be sure to read part one before continuing.

“Survivor 2 is in the basket.” The words muffled by the spinning blades of the helicopter.

Once your eyes adjust to the grainy Coast Guard video, you can see my uncle Jimmy being raised out of the gray marsh, marking the end of the frightening uncertainty of the last 12 hours.

Earlier that morning he and his friend Peter (later known as “Survivor 1”) half jokingly reminded a guy at the marina to send a search party if they weren’t back that afternoon. Excited to be finally making progress on a project that’s been in the works for several years, they took off in the airboat leaving behind the flares, hand-held radios & even the cooler of sandwiches their wives had packed.

They managed to finish their work around 2pm, a few hours before the low tide that would have left their boat immobile in the sticky Georgia mud. “You ready to head back?” Jimmy asked, buckling himself into the captains seat, preparing for their return to the marina.

“Yep…let’s go.” Peter said, standing beside Jimmy, bracing himself for takeoff.

And then their world turned upside down.

In an instant the force of the airboat’s propeller spun it on the wrong axis. Peter was thrown in the marsh. My uncle, trapped underwater beneath the now-overturned boat, felt for the release to the seatbelt holding him captive. It wouldn’t budge.

Frantically searching for air, he finally managed to stretch far enough for his nose to break the surface of the water and take his first breath in what seemed like hours.

Meanwhile, Peter was maneuvering through their swampy confines shouting his name. Unable to move the boat, and frightened that the gasoline surrounding them might ignite at any moment, Peter tried to pull Jimmy loose but succeeded only enough to allow both his nose and mouth to breath freely.

Jimmy had to get free of the restraint imprisoning him to the boat, but the seatbelt cutting off circulation to his legs made his pocket knife unreachable.

Peter located another knife in the tool box that was thankfully still attached to the boat with a bungee cord. Between breaths, Jimmy cut furiously at the nylon belt, but soon realized he couldn’t tell what he was cutting–the belt or himself.

Finally, after nearly 20 minutes of fighting for air, Jimmy fell free. But not before getting electrocuted a few times by the inverter that was remarkably still functional.

Only minutes before, they were preparing for a short trek to the marina. Now they were gathering whatever they could to survive the night.

Still concerned about the fuel covering the surface of the water, they grabbed their water soaked cell phones, a 2 gallon container of gas, a paddle and a couple of life jackets. Oh, and the lighter that permanently resides in Jimmy’s pocket despite the fact that he hasn’t smoked in years.

Peter remembered about a few wooden pallets that were left in a high spot in the marsh, so they walked, crawled & swam before finding the spot where they would remain for the next 10 hours.

After an hour of working their way through the marsh, they were still less than 50 yards from the boat. Hiking the mile or two back to the marina was simply not an option.

So there they sat.

As the tide got lower and the fiddler crabs appeared, they cleared an area around the pallets in hopes that they wouldn’t be surprised by any large animals, namely gators.

Their greatest hope was that someone would miss them enough to send a boat the next day, and maybe, just maybe during high tide they would be visible above the marsh grass.

Of course, as they managed the occasional nap on the pallet, wishful visions of a bright orange helicopter appeared in their dreams.

Meanwhile, on the mainland

A few friends at the marina began to get suspicious when they stopped hearing the aircraft-like noise of their boat. By 5pm, they knew something wasn’t right and began searching on their own.

No luck.

A call to the Coast Guard was greeted with the news that they couldn’t begin searching until someone had been missing for 24 hours.

Several hours later, still no word. Their wives were getting worried.

Another call to the Coast Guard later that evening produced better results.

Back in the marsh

Around midnight, Jimmy and Peter noticed a small helicopter in the distance. It appeared to be searching for something. Them?

As it neared, they ripped open one of the life jackets, doused it with some of the gas they’d taken from the boat and fired it up. Thinking they’d surely been saved, Jimmy and Peter couldn’t believe it when the helicopter disappeared over the horizon.

An eternity passed before it returned. They doused the life jacket with more gas and lit it again. The helicopter passed right over them and continued on, just as though they didn’t exist.

A third pass and the last bit of gasoline produced the same result. Maybe life was playing a cruel joke. Maybe they would have to wait and hope a boat found them the next day. Maybe no one was looking for them at all. How long could they last without food? Water?

Then it came back.

This time, it didn’t disappear. This time it hovered 50 feet above them and lowered down a swimmer and a basket and the hope of an exciting homecoming complete with hugs and tears and confetti and a big banner saying “Welcome Back!” And sandwiches.

After being stranded for more than 12 hours, Jimmy and Peter were lifted to safety. As they later learned, the Coast Guard crew had seen them the first time they lit the life jacket. Unbeknownst to them, a boat had been sitting just offshore trying to get close enough to pick them up. After several passes, the crew determined the boat wouldn’t be able to make it far enough into the marsh to save them and got clearance to do it themselves.

Now in the back of the helicopter, trying to shout loud enough above the noise to be heard, Jimmy asked a member of the crew where they were going. After some discussion over the headset, the guy shouted back “Where do you want to go?”

“Well…our car is in the marina parking lot.” Jimmy replied, in no way thinking they’d actually entertain the idea.

As Jimmy and Peter walked to their car they waved to the crew that had just dropped them a few hundred feet away, somewhat unsure how to thank the group of people who just plucked them out of a marsh and lifted them back to civilization.

Only, there was no confetti. No banner. No one to greet them with a “Welcome Back” hug. Surely someone knew that they were being rescued. Right? Somewhat confused, they got in their car and left as though nothing had ever happened.

After eating their sandwiches, of course.

Several days later, Jimmy and Peter recovered the boat with the help of a winch and low tide. It’s now in the shop, and they expect to be back at work in the marsh in a few weeks. You can read Jimmy’s response to the event and they lessons he learned by visiting his Twitter feed at

I’d like to thank him for letting me write about this story. And I’d also like to remind him that next time he’s going to take a ride on a helicopter, he should let me know. It is #29 on my bucket list, after all.