Boutte man recounts how they survived
Matt Grabert of Boutte called Saturday’s experience the scariest thing he’s ever been through.
“When you get thrown into the water at 4:45 in the morning, helpless in the middle of the river … it could have been a much different result,” Grabert said. “I could barely process it when it was happening.”
Grabert and his friend, Jake Duhe of Destrehan, were on an early morning duck hunting excursion on a frigid Saturday morning, heading down the Mississippi River when their trip took an unexpected, frightening turn. They were in Grabert’s boat in the middle of the river near Venice, and winds were much stronger than expected — and so were the river’s waves.
“The weather report said there would be 20 mile-per-hour winds. It ended up about 45,” Grabert said. “We didn’t realize it would be so bad until we were about a quarter of the way out there. The waves were way too rough to be in, but we couldn’t go back because we knew it would be worse.”
Soon, a wave came over the boat’s motor and it stalled, leaving the two stranded and needing help. Then, their worst fear came when a second large wave tipped the boat and threw Grabert and Duhe into the ice cold water.
“It was pitch black,” Grabert said. “It was a completely helpless feeling.”
The two began swimming for shore, clinging to the floating boat for stability. Grabert said the two made it within about 50 yards from shore in what he estimated was about 15 minutes in the water, but he knew time was running out.
“We were getting to the point of exhaustion,” Grabert said. “I was barely able to hold on to the boat.”
Fortunately, the capsized boat was spotted by a passing ship and a call was made for rescue. A nearby pilot boat responded to the situation and rescued them.
Grabert said they were relieved over being rescued, but the two hunters were still freezing cold.
“It wasn’t over yet,” he said.
They got medical attention and survived a harrowing ordeal. Grabert thanked his rescuers, who included Capt. Warren Nelson, Watchman Philip Crovetto, Capt. Dana Wright and Deckhand Roman Lewis.
“I’ll forever be grateful,” Grabert said.
In addition to their rescuers, he credited their survival to wearing life jackets and having bought a boat only three weeks earlier that was built specifically to float if it capsized.
“The man who built it had that exact scenario in mind,” said Grabert, who credited Evan Schaubhut of Des Allemands. “If that boat sank, it would have been a lot harder for anyone to spot us and we wouldn’t have had it to hold on to. There may have been no way to find us and things could have ended much differently.”
An avid duck hunter, Grabert said he had crossed the river countless times without calamity, although it was the first time he had used this particular boat to cross.
“It wasn’t until I was cleaning the boat out (Sunday afternoon) that I really processed what had happened and the kind of danger we were in,” Grabert said. “That’s when I started to realize how fortunate and blessed we really were to get through it.”