Five people were airlifted by Maryland State Police helicopter from the Susquehanna Flats on the upper Bay Friday night—a group of stranded waterfowl hunters and also the volunteer fire boat crew that attempted to rescue them.
It started with the three hunters running aground while they were heading home from an outing Friday. State police say their boat encountered shifting tides and mud. Winds Friday were gusting to 30 miles per hour, and the water temperature was in the 30s. The hunters were wearing cold-weather gear.
The Susquehanna Hose Company, an all-volunteer fire and rescue company, responded with one of their Zodiac-type swift water boats, accessible for shallow-water rescues. The Harford County Department of Emergency Services Special Operations unit, Charlestown Fire Company, and other agencies also helped. Charlestown fire boat operator Mike Walsh tells Bay Bulletin that waves were steadily breaking 2.5-3 feet.
Just after rescuing the three stranded boaters, Susquehanna Hose Company’s crew lost sight of the fire rescue boat on scene amid the dark and rough conditions. They became disoriented and lost, eventually losing their motor power, too.
That’s when a Maryland State Police helicopter was called in, around 7:45 p.m., to search for the Zodiac with the three hunters and two rescuers on board. They found it around 8:45 p.m. The fire company’s Zodiac was in an area of the flats filled with silt and mud, making it inaccessible by other rescue boats. State police say hypothermia was the biggest concern as temperatures were near-freezing along with the gusting winds.
When state police helicopter Trooper 6 was running low on fuel, Trooper 1 stepped in to carry out the rescue and hoist all five people from the swift water Zodiac. A Coast Guard helicopter was also dispatched from Atlantic City New Jersey in case it was needed.
State police describe the maneuver as such: ” Trooper 1’s Corporal/Crew Chief lowered a rescue basket to the side of the rescue boat, where a hunter was able to climb in and then hoisted into the aircraft. That same evolution was completed four additional times to rescue the remaining hunters and fire company personnel.”
The five victims were taken by helicopter to the National Guard Armory in Havre de Grace, where a Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps crew evaluated them for hypothermia. No one was injured.
–Meg Walburn Viviano