Finger-Pointing Starts in S.C. Sea Rescue

Beached on Bald Head Island, N.C., is the JY-15 sailboat on which Josh Long and Troy Driscoll were adrift for six days. On a windy day, the boys set off shark fishing with one oar and no sail, life jackets, flares, food or water.
Beached on Bald Head Island, N.C., is the JY-15 sailboat on which Josh Long and Troy Driscoll were adrift for six days. On a windy day, the boys set off shark fishing with one oar and no sail, life jackets, flares, food or water. (By Eric Suter -- U.S. Coast Guard Via AP)

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By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

The miracle rescue is over. Now for the second-guessing.

The Coast Guard is hearing it from family members of the teenagers rescued off the North Carolina coast this weekend after six days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean without food or water. The teens are hearing it from boating safety experts, appalled at their lack of preparation before pushing into the water.

Relatives of the teens are accusing the Coast Guard of ending its search too quickly and failing to listen to local boaters who were urging the agency to look north, rather than south. Others say there would never have been a search to begin with if the teens had not launched on a gusty day with only a single oar -- and no sail or motor -- to propel them.

"What they did was incredibly stupid," said L.J. Wallace, who hosts a radio marine show in Charleston, S.C.

At least everyone can agree on one thing: Josh Long, 17, and his best buddy, Troy Driscoll, 15, are very lucky -- very lucky, indeed.

Long and Driscoll nudged their 15-foot boat into the water off Charleston on April 24, hoping to paddle past a sandbar and do some shark fishing for "a couple of hours," Driscoll said yesterday in a phone interview from his hospital bed in Charleston. They had no water, no food, no life jackets, no flares, no radio.

A rip current tugged them far from shore, exhausting the teens, who futilely tried to paddle against it. Driscoll said that they began to cry and that weariness took over, eventually lulling them to sleep. When they awoke, they were in bright blue water. Driscoll knew that could only mean they had been pulled miles out to sea.

By then, a huge search was underway. The Coast Guard was using computer models to predict the missing boat's course. And the computer was wrong. But, then again, so was the information that went into it.

The Coast Guard had been told by the boys' parents that they were in a Sunfish, one of the most popular small sailboats in the nation. Instead, they were in a JY-15 sailboat, a craft that sits higher in the water and is affected differently by currents.

At the same time, local boaters were challenging the Coast Guard's decision to focus the search primarily to the south and asserting that currents would push the boat north. Ryan Doss, a Coast Guard spokesman, said yesterday that the search mission is being reviewed, but the promise of a second look has done little to pacify angry relatives.

"The Coast Guard needs to give a straight answer and say they made a mistake," Driscoll's uncle, Matthew Driscoll, told the Charleston Post and Courier.

Doss said a lack of information hampered the search. The teenagers' parents did not know where they had launched from, Doss said, so the Coast Guard had to seek help from a cell phone company that pinpointed a signal from one of the boys' phones 20 hours after the search began.


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