PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A boater met his rescuers at the United States Coast Guard Base in Portsmouth Wednesday morning.
Eighty-year-old Jack Van Ommen says he left the Nautical Boats Marina on June 23 to attend a boat show in the northeast.
“First of all, I have to apologize. It was my fault,” Van Ommen says.
Van Ommen says he got a late start with his boat, the “Fleetwood,” because of engine problems. He was off the Eastern Shore when he decided to rest.
“I woke up feeling the boat grounding,” he says.
Van Ommen was able to send out a distress call to the Coast Guard when the boat ran aground.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Brittany Wygand was on the other side of that call.
“I remember that it was very early in the morning. We got a call saying ‘Mayday’ over the radio,” she recalls.
Wygand says the command center in Portsmouth quickly got into rescue mode by coordinating rescue operations with their base out of Elizabeth City. A helicopter was sent to find and rescue Van Ommen.
“I saw him down in the water. They hoisted me down,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Sam Fuller.
It was Fuller’s first rescue as a rescue swimmer. He says he swam about 75 yards to where Van Ommen was waiting in his life raft.
“All of the sudden I see this head stick over with his chin right over the edge. He said, ‘You have to go in the water!’ I said, ‘I have to go in the water? I thought you can pick me up from the life raft,’” Van Ommen says.
Fuller says he took Van Ommen to a spot where he was lifted up to the helicopter before going back for Van Ommen’s bag.
Van Ommen lost all of his other belongings in the boat. Despite the loss, he’s thankful he was able to meet some of those behind the rescue.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never once met someone I had a hand in helping in a rescue,” says Wygand.
Fuller says he was just amazed and inspired to rescue someone as interesting as Van Ommen.
“He’s an 80-year-old man who’s been sailing all over the world these past few years. He’s seen so many things in his life,” Fuller says
Both sides are thankful the rescue will allow Van Ommen can continue to sail the seven seas.
“With your help, I’m getting another lease on life. It’s as simple as that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he says.