While I was a pastor at Jayess, my phone rang one mid-August afternoon and my longtime friend and a neighboring pastor at the time, the late Rev. Kenny Rockco, was on the other end.
He, his 7-year-old grandson Dakota and another minister, Bro. Smith, were making plans to go redfishing in the marshes out from Chalmette, La., and were inviting me to come along.
I readily agreed to go and we met up the next morning long before daylight in the parking lot of Piggly Wiggly in Tylertown.
The date was Aug. 15, roughly two weeks before Hurricane Katrina walloped the Gulf Coast, making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.
This is something of an infamous 14th anniversary for me.
This event carried a wallop as well, making the evening TV news and the front page of the Times Picayune paper (New Orleans) the next day. The big bold headlines read “Rescue From Above.”
It was just an ordinary day as we headed out with Bro. Rockco’s 16-foot bass boat and 175hp motor in tow. Upon arriving at the public launch, we quickly purchased our out-of-state fishing licenses, bought a few snacks and motored about 20 miles up a bayou to get to our desired destination.
Those Louisiana marshes are a sportsman’s paradise as far as fishing goes but, as we were about to find out, they can be a death trap.
Looking more like a gigantic maze with countless paths weaving throughout hundreds of square miles of head high grass, it’s an accident looking for a place to happen.
We were caught off-guard as we had no GPS devices and failed to check to see when the tide was due to go out. Both those factors were to play a big part on our ill-fated outing.
We got into some fish and, sometime near noon, we noticed the water level beginning to drop and decided to head out. However, we had gotten turned around and could not remember what route to take. There was no way to look out over the tall grass as panic set in.
By 3 p.m. we were in only 18 inches of water, barely enough to keep the heavy bass boat afloat, and by 5 Bro. Rockco had burned that big outboard motor up with mud clogging the water pump.
I was the only one that had any signal on a cell phone, so I called 911, which then had the Coast Guard out of Belle Chase, La., to contact me.
I had just enough battery left to be able to explain to the dispatcher our dilemma and the direction we had headed from the launch. The Guardsman said they would start a search party for us as my cell phone went dead.
We started paddling to find as much open water as we could and found an old pier with a few posts and planks still standing and tied up to it.
Around 9 that night, we heard a chopper way off in the distance. Bro. Rockco had a flare gun that had never been opened and was yellowed from 10 years stowed up under a seat in the boat, so he opened it, hoping for the best.
With the chopper going away from us, he pulled the trigger and, praise the Lord, it lightened up the sky overhead. That would turn out to be our life-saver.
Bro. Rockco also had a road flare like truckers use as well, so he lit it and placed it up on the old pier, and that brought the chopper directly overhead.
When that Guardsman started being lowered in the basket from the chopper, he really did look like an angel descending from above. I later said he was the only man I ever felt like kissing!
The chopper could only take two per trip, so Bro. Rockco and grandson went first as the Guardsman stayed with us in the boat with his radio and moral support.
When the chopper returned, I was the last to board, and it was my first ride via a helicopter before coming abroad with the troops, and I could not get over just how noisy that thing was.
But feeling like a drowned rat, all I could say was, “Thank you, Jesus” and “Thank you, U.S. Coast Guard.”
We were all taken to the Coast Guard station where we were given dry clothes and hot coffee. The commander showed us on one of their computers where we were found. It was Lake Eugene and he said our rescue was the most remote ever.
He went on to say that at times they never find some and if they do they are brought back in body bags.
The next day a local game warden went in by airboat and retrieved Bro. Rockco’'s stranded craft. Best I can remember, it cost him around $5,000 to repair the big motor, but one’s life has no price tag, and there were four that lived to tell about it.
Thank you, U.S. Coast Guard, and thank God for the flare gun.
God bless you and God bless America.