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Service members assigned to MacDill Air Force Base likely saved the lives of eight people from their capsized boat in the Tampa Bay area after a shark was spotted circling the group.
Airmen from the base were completing a sweep of nearby stormy waters June 12 following an issued small craft advisory due to the weather.
Staff Sgt. William Au and Airman 1st Class Kade Jones, concerned about the danger for small boats, undertook the safety sweep despite the risks.
“It was really rough out. The waves were so tall it was hard to see where they were. The waves just kept coming up and down,” said Rivera-Rodriguez.
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“This inexplicable urge led Au, joined by Jones, to load up their marine patrol boat and do a sweep of the waters surrounding MacDill,” the military base’s press office stated in a July 15 statement. “Within a few moments of their sweep, the two airmen locked eyes on a distant pontoon boat. The boat stood out to them for two reasons; first, it was the only boat on the water. Second, it was flipped completely upside down.”
Jones and Au immediately called for backup and began the impromptu rescue mission. The airmen spotted a bullshark, approximately 10 feet long, in the water near the small watercraft.
Jones and Au were soon joined by Airmen 1st Class Samari Rivera-Rodriguez and marine patrolmen Savin Venable.
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The group of servicemen pulled all eight individuals out of the water and within 15 minutes had them back to the base safe.
“My biggest takeaway after getting everyone home safe was how well the marine patrol airmen did. These are young airmen, barely 20 years old,” Au said. “Just watching them do their tasks while coordinating with other agencies, while simultaneously caring for the victims, showed how competent and well-trained they are.”
MacDill Air Force Base celebrated the successful operation as a glowing reflection of service members’ competency.