Swimmer Survives Scare In Sound - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

04/09/04

Swimmer Survives Scare In Sound

Somehow, someway Jeff Wallace made it into Curtis Deecel's ambulance. "God was with him. The Lord was with him," the EMT said. "Good Friday was his day."

Thursday started out to be Wallace's day, too. The 45 year old father and his two teenage boys left the Pass Christian harbor for a fishing trip off Cat Island. But 30 minutes into their voyage, choppy waters capsized their 26 foot vessel.

James Wallace remembered what happened next.

"I gave Dad my life jacket," the 15 year old said. "And I was just holding onto them two. And we drifted with the current for a couple of hours. And we wound up on a channel marker."

At that point, Dad helped James and 14 year old Clinton climb onto Gulfport ship channel marker 36. But the boys said Dad didn't have the room, or the strength to climb on with them.

"He just figured after a couple of hours, he would just rather move around and stay warm," said James, "then sit there and get crushed up against those barnacles."

While Wallace aimlessly swam and drifted out in the Mississippi Sound, the two boys stayed put. They were scared. They were hungry. And they were bored. So get this. The talked about -- of all things -- Waffle House and Wal Mart.

At 7:46 Thursday night, the boredom ended. A pilot boat crew spotted the teens and contacted the Coast Guard.

"It was exciting," Clinton said, "except my dad was still out there, and we were pretty worried about him."

Rescue teams searched all night. The family feared the worst, in part because of Wallace's health problems.

Last October, a car wreck put Wallace in the hospital off and on for nearly four months. One of his injuries was a punctured lung. That meant a man with just one healthy lung was stranded at sea.

"I knew he was going to be all right," his son James said.

But Wallace's wife wasn't as confident.

"Mom was pretty freaked out for awhile," James laughed. "She didn't really get much sleep last night. And that phone call was a bit of a relief."

The call came at 9:17 a.m. Wallace was alive and in good spirits near Cat Island Pass -- nine nautical miles, and 16 long hours from the last place he saw his boys.

Forty minutes later, EMT Decell reunited Wallace and his family. Wallace gave everybody two thumbs up.  His wife gave him a hug. 

"It makes the job worthwhile when you see that people do survive instances where most people don't," EMT Decell said.

Wallace told his wife he saw the Coast Guard helicopter overnight. They just didn't see him. He said seeing the helicopter gave him the strength to keep swimming and keep fighting. Wallace should be released from Memorial Hospital Saturday morning.

by Brad Kessie

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