Des Allemands father, son saved from drowning in river

Whitney Curole is a firm believer that the rescue of he and his son from the freezing waters of the Mississippi River is nothing short of a miracle.

“I knew when the first big wave came over the boat … I knew it couldn’t take that much water,” Curole said. “When we hit the wave, my son hit his back on the bow and he was hurting but he got his life jacket on before the boat went down. When you’re in that kind of situation you’re just trying to react. I was trying to get the water out before we sunk, but it made no difference – it was going down.”

Just as he had so many times before without incident, Curole was riding the “ship waves” toward a dock in Venice at about 4:30 p.m. last Tuesday to sell the sharks they caught there. Suddenly, his 27-by-9-foot aluminum flat boat went down on a wave, but was over topped by water of the next wave instead of bouncing back up as expected.

A stunned Curole, a 30-year boat captain, knew they were in trouble.

The wave had tossed his son, Whitney Jr., against the bow and he was in pain. His father had tossed him a life vest and watched him struggling to put it on in the few seconds they had before going under.

Curole started bailing water out of the boat, but he knew it would do no good.

“When the boat sank, I looked to my left and saw a boat,” he said. “I saw them turning our way.”

A second wave hit and pushed Curole’s boat under. One of the three shark lines in it caught Curole by his shoulder, taking him and the 50 sharks they caught that day under water.

“It just yanked me down in the water,” he said. “I had hunting boots and my jump suit on, too, but somehow I made it back to the top of the water.”

At the surface, he saw the crew boat rescuing his son as Curole grabbed hold of shark line buoys in the water to stay afloat.

“We could hardly move,” he said of the 48-degree water. “If that boat hadn’t come along we’d probably have drowned in 20 minutes or die from hypothermia.”

Randy Gauthier, the rescue boat’s captain, described saving the Curoles as divine intervention in his message to Curole’s wife, Lisa.

“Boat sunk in the middle of the river in the fog,” Gauthier said. “Went down in less than 2 minutes. God put us there at the right place and time to catch them before they drowned.”

One of the boat deckhands, Zachary Ragas, recalled how they were on their way to the dock from work, northbound in southwest pass, when they witnessed the Curole’s shark fishing boat hit a swell and go down.

“The boat disappeared within seconds and was just buoys from the shark lines to be seen along with the two people aboard the boat,” Ragas said. “As we pulled up, I hollered for them to grab a buoy to stay afloat, which one man did. As for the other guy, he was unable to and was just trying to stay afloat and, luckily, he did just long enough, as we grabbed him just in time his body locked up from the cold.”

Ragas said he knew the river was a dangerous place, but witnessed it last Tuesday.

“We are always told to wear a life jacket and we just blow it off and say, ‘Oh, I’ll be alright,’” Ragas said. “But I’m telling you, you won’t be alright. Seeing their bodies lock up within less than two minutes from being so cold they did not have a chance of surviving if we did not see them go down. I hope it makes you think twice when you get in a boat to go on the river.”

In the time since they’d started fishing sharks out of Venice, the Curoles had hardly seen any vessels other than a few pilot boats and some ships. But on this day, there was a crew boat there that didn’t typically use the river, yet they took this route and saved the two.

“I’m still in shock,” Curole said. “It is what it is and we just have to try to pull through and get another boat. We lost everything. We lost the boat along with 200 shark hooks and everything to fish with … just everything we had … our whole livelihood.”

Curole said they had been sharking in the area since January out of necessity, when state restrictions hurt his crabbing business in Des Allemands.

They were doing well with shark fishing, but now they’ve lost everything and his mind returns often to the accident.

“I’ve been thinking about it over and over in my mind,” he said. “I just can’t think of anything different to do. We just rolled over the waves, but this time the front of the boat didn’t come up. I’m not an inexperienced captain. I wish I knew. There was nothing I could do. It was my fault.”

Even though he’s still shocked by the loss, Curole said he has to take care of his family.

“I’m on my way back to Venice right now to see if can find a job sharking with somebody else,” he said. “I have to keep going and make a living. I’m a fisherman so I got to fish.”


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