I must start by saying that I am a very experienced hunter/boater. I have been driving boats since I was about 12 years old and duck hunting since I was 16. I have never had anything like this ever happen to me before. I guess you might say that this is probably the closest near death experience that I have ever had. You always think or say that this can not happen to you.
The following is the chain of events that occurred on the morning of Sunday, January 30, 2000...
First of all, there were 3 of us on this hunting trip. Jon, a friend of mine from Tuscaloosa, Tonya, my fiancee, and myself. We left Birmingham about 4:15am en route to Guntersville. At about 5:25am we stopped at the Chevron Station in Guntersville to fill up the truck and boat with gas. After leaving there, we drove to the Seibold's Creek boat launch and launched the boat. This was about 5:45am. By the time we got to where we were going to hunt and got all of the decoys put out, it was about 6:15am. It was pretty foggy out with a steady drizzle. From 6:15am until 10:00am, we saw a lot of birds moving around, but none came close enough to shoot.
At this point, I asked Jon if I could take his boat and ride around some, because I get fidgety when nothing is going on. So I got into the boat and headed north, up river. I was not going fast, in fact the boat hadn't planed out. Also, I was not familiar with the boat the motor and how they handled.
I hadn't be gone long, but I was far enough away that I could not make out Tonya and Jon on the bank/shore, when the motor hit something underwater and jerked out of my hand. As the handle of the motor came out of my hand, it immediately went to the left side of the boat. In doing so, the force of the handle leaving my grip, the throttle increased the power/speed of the motor. This turned the boat up on it's right side and it threw me into the water. I later learned from Tonya & Jon, that I went into the water around 10:15am.
The boat was then turning in circles. I made a few attempts at grabbing the boat as it spun away from me. Once getting hit in the left leg by the propeller. Fortunately, my waders were thick enough that the prop didn't penetrate through to my leg. I was wearing Lacrosse 1000 Thrasher Neoprene Waders, A neoprene coat w/ a hood, polypropylene tops, bottoms & socks, a fleece top & bottom over that, and neoprene booties.
I then became frantic and began gasping for breaths. As the boat was getting further away, I looked at the shore and it appeared to be an eternity away. At this point, I honestly felt it was over and I was going to die. In fact, I told myself that there was nothing I could do and that I was going to die right there but I didn't know how long. The water was so cold and the shore was so far away. I felt that if hypothermia didn't kill me then exhaustion from trying to make it to the shore would, or both! I looked up to "HEAVEN" and asked "GOD" to keep me warm and to give me the strength that I needed to swim to shore. Immediately, this calm came over me and I was no longer cold. I was able to breathe normal again.
I began remembering what I learned several years ago in some courses I took in Scuba Diving, they were Search & Rescue and my Divemaster Courses. I new that I had to keep moving and swimming, no matter how tired or exhausted I got. This was to keep my heart rate, blood pressure, & body temperature up, as well as my adrenalin pumping. I looked around to see or if I could hear any boats near by, but there were none. I kept calling a shore for "Help", repeatedly. I kept telling myself over & over to keep going, keep swimming, & kept calling out for help. I could hear Tonya screaming out to me frantically. I could tell that she was hysterical. I called back to her to let her know that I was still alive.
It seemed like forever. I kept swimming and calling out for help. By this time, I had made it about 3/4's the way in and only had about 1/4 the way to go. I could feel my body growing weaker from the cold water & exhaustion, but I was determined to keep going as long as I could. The shore and the houses looked so desolate and abandoned. I could not see nor hear anything or anyone.
All of a sudden, out of no where, I saw a girl with a dog standing on the bank looking out towards me. I kept calling out, "Help! Help! I'm in the water, I fell out of a boat!". I finally got enough strength to raise up my right arm to wave and signal her. She saw me, waved back as if to let me know that she was going for help, and the she ran as hard as she could back towards the houses. I never saw her again after that. I kept swimming, but by now I was wore out. But I had not given up, I told myself that God was with me and help would be coming soon.
Then, over to the right of me, I saw a woman and a man running down to the boat houses. I hoped and prayed that were going to get a boat and come get me. I know it wasn't but minutes, but it seemed like forever before I saw the boat and them coming. I could see them looking around for me, I managed to raise my right arm up & waved, it felt like it weighed 500 pounds. As the boat approached, I began thanking God for watching over me and for bringing someone to help. In the article or news broadcast ran by WAFF 48, they were called Good Samaritans, I called them "ANGELS sent by GOD"!
The lady immediately cast out a rope to me. It seemed like it took all of the energy that I had left, but I managed to get a hold of the rope and she pulled me to the boat. Together, they managed to drag me into the boat, I tried to help, but I had no energy left. Upon getting me in the boat, she covered me up in a blanket and then laid on top of me to get me warm. She rubbed my hands, my face, & all over my body to try and warm me. I believe I told her "Thank You!" over & over, I'm not sure if the words came out or if they were just thoughts/words in my head. The man headed us back to boat dock.
When we got there, they both got me out of the boat, laid me on the dock, and began taking off all of my wet gear. This took place somewhere around 11:00am. Upon getting my clothes off, they covered me in a warm blanket and rushed me to a house. After entering the house they sat me in a chair in front of the fire place, wrapped me in more blankets, & gave me some warm water to drink.
Shortly thereafter, the paramedics arrived an began checking me over. They told me that my blood pressure was 160 over 90 and that my temperature was 97 degrees. They asked me many questions and to my knowledge, I was able to answer them all. I later found out that my ANGELS/RESCUERS names were Janet Moore & Ken Bryant. It was now about noon. Also, my friend Jon showed up during this time period. He was quiet relieved to find out that I was going to be alright.
To sum the rest of it up, the marine police came and talked to me, the boat was recovered, Jon left to go pick up Tonya, (who was still waiting out on the river bank along with all of our gear. Later, I found out that she brought in all of the decoys and had all of our gear stacked and ready to go on the shore waiting to be picked up. Until Jon arrived, she did not know if I was dead or alive! They drove the boat back to the boat launch, trailered it, and immediately drove to Mr. Bryant's house where I was. It was after 1:00pm before I got to see Tonya again. She sure was a sight for sore eyes!
For it is by the Grace and Mercy of God and the Angels he sent, that I am alive and well today! I feel that I have been truly blessed with another chance here on this earth.
Janet Moore, Ken Bryant, The Alabama Marine Patrol, and others who's names are unknown to me - I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Brian K. Wallace
Don't Let What Happened to Me Happen to You! Below are a list of suggestions to help you prepare in case you're involved in a Boating/Hunting Accident:
1. Always attach the kill switch to you in someway!
2. Always keep a whistle or some type of sound device on your person!
3. Always keep some type of communication devices with you in the boat, as well as leaving one with the person/persons on the shore! (I.E. Cell Phone, CB Radio, Marine Radio, etc.)
4. During the summer, put on all of your hunting gear (waders, coats, etc.) just like you would in duck season and jump into a swimming pool or a lake. Find out what you can and can't do in a situation like I was in before it happens to you. Know in advance that you can float and not sink. I highly recommend neoprene chest waders (Lacrosse Brush-Tuff or Thrashers), neoprene surf coat & booties (from Herters), and fleece clothing. These items help save my life and help prevent hypothermia!
5. Last but not least....."ALWAYS Wear a Life Jacket/Vest" when in a boat and on the water....Hunting, Fishing, or just Boating!!!!