Men clinging to ice chest rescued from spillway

Motorists traveling westbound on I-10 last week were treated to a strange site as two men clung to an ice chest next to a capsized boat in the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

After the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office received several calls from those driving above the stranded boaters, a joint rescue operation was undertaken with the help of several other governmental agencies last Monday.

The men were in Lake Pontchartrain near the spillway in St. Charles Parish when a quickly brewing storm caused their boat to capsize.

Sgt. Dwayne LaGrange, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the boaters were caught by surprise in rough waters and did not have enough time to make it ashore.

“These two gentleman were attempting to go fishing and shrimping and a cold front came through without notice. The water got rough fast and the boast capsized,” he said.

After falling into the water, the fishermen clung to cooler floating in water near the elevated highway.

“We received numerous reports from drivers westbound on I-10 that they saw two guys clinging to an ice chest. We activated our marine division and they responded to the call,” LaGrange said.

Upon arriving at the scene, the Sheriff’s Office was able to pull one of the men from the water.  The other man was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

“They hoisted him up in the air and brought him to the shoreline in a safe location,” LaGrange said.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Tippets said the Coast Guard regularly responds to distress calls from local boaters.

“It’s pretty common, not necessarily people clinging to coolers,” he said.

Tippets provided a few tips to those boating the area following the incident.

“We like to tell people to have a float plan ready. That is important so they have a time when they are leaving and coming back so their family members can contact the Coast Guard if needed,” he said.

In addition, Tippets said boaters should have the proper communications equipment.

“Everyone should have a radio aboard so if they get in trouble they can make a distress call,” he said.

LaGrange said the incident should serve to remind boaters how quickly conditions can change in waterways.

“People need to pay close attention to the marine forecast and it is essential that boaters have those life jackets. This type of thing can happen without warning at anytime,” LaGrange said. “We are just glad to know these two gentlemen are OK and back with their families,” he said.

LaGrange added that such situations are a big reason why the Sheriff’s Office has a marine division.

“With Louisiana being sportsman’s paradise, this is something that occurs from time to time and we are prepared,” he said.

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