Search & Rescued: 3 children saved from stranded boat

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

LAPLACE — Conditions in St. John the Baptist Parish remained relatively calm as Hurricane Nate rolled in from the Gulf of Mexico, but the high waves and winds produced by the storm spelled trouble for one family on Lake Maurepas Saturday afternoon.

Just after 2 p.m., the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office received word that a 39-year-old man and three children ages 2, 5 and 6 were stranded on turbulent lake waters after their flat boat’s engine stalled.

Search and rescue team officers Blane Rome Sr., Elton Foret and Stephen Hefler were immediately deployed. The three traveled down canals by boat to locate the subjects, and within 33 minutes, all four were found uninjured.

The children were transferred to the Sheriff’s Office boat upon arrival. Hefler said the two boys were seated in the back of the boat while he held the cold and exhausted 2-year-old girl in his arms.

The father remained in his flat boat as the officers towed the family to safety at the Reserve Canal Launch.

Hefler was surprised to receive the call because he hadn’t expected anyone to be on the lake, especially with small children, only hours before an impending hurricane.

The children on board added an extra sense of urgency to the operation, according to Sheriff Mike Tregre.

“Rescuing the little kids was the most rewarding part,” Tregre said. “If you get a call about two men stranded on a boat, of course you’re going to do all you can to help, but when kids are involved, it adds another layer. It makes you really want to help.”

He said the officers on the search and rescue team have endured “heavy and periodic” training for boat rescue efforts and were prepared to respond to any calls associated with Hurricane Nate.

“The men jumped into action, and it was a very successful rescue operation,” Tregre said.

Hefler, who has been part of the search and rescue team for many years, said he enjoys operating the boats and helping people, but he still urges people to take safety precautions so they don’t find themselves in danger.

“If the weather is bad, don’t go out on the water,” Hefler said. “Also, always wear life jackets. We made sure all three kids were wearing life jackets and were protected.”

— By Brooke Robichaux