ECU students, professor rescued by U.S. Coast Guard
(Dec. 2, 2005)
An East Carolina University biologist and two students were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Friday morning after their research boat sunk in the Albemarle Sound.
Biology professor Roger Rulifson and ECU students Garry Wright and Katharine (Katie) Kleber were uninjured, according to Coast Guard officials.
The researchers were retrieving electronic equipment from the seafloor in seven feet of water at the mouth of Little River when their 24-foot boat overturned. The boat was anchored from the bow and on the port side. Rulifson was in the process of diving underwater to retrieve the equipment when the craft was hit by a wind gust, which swung the boat and exposed the stern to waves.
“Both Garry and Katie jumped clear as the wind caught the (boat’s) canopy top and proceeded to roll us completely upside down starboard-side first,” Rulifson said. “I grabbed my cell phone from the console and quickly dialed 911 as the boat rolled over me.”
Rulifson continued to talk with 911 and U.S. Coast Guard personnel as they swam toward shore about 700 yards away.
Eventually communications were lost but the trio managed to swim to shore where they waited in a winter wheat field for the arrival of the rescuers. Rulifson had on a wetsuit and each student wore a life vest. Within a half-hour, the researchers were rescued by a Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter from Elizabeth City. A salvage team from ECU’s Office of Diving and Water Safety was able to retrieve the boat and some of the research equipment that had sunk to the bottom of the sound.
Wright is an undergraduate biology major. Kleber is a graduate student.
Rulifson’s group was collecting data for his environmental assessment of potential sites for water treatment plant discharge sites. The research is funded by Pasquotank and Currituck counties over three years to predict environmental effects on Albemarle Sound habitats.