GULFPORT, MS — A group of North Little Rock School District fifth-graders was in the right place at the right time this weekend. While on a school trip to the Gulf of Mexico their ship was the first to respond to a fiery boat accident.
Almost 500 miles away South of Gulfport, Mississippi, 5th graders were looking forward to their first swim outside of an Arkansas lake or pool. They got more first than they bargained for when they witnessed a Coast Guard rescue feet away.
“The captain came on and said, ‘This is not a drill. There is a nearby vessel that is on fire, and we are the nearest vessel,” remembered 5th grader Madelyn Lawson.
She was one of dozens of Crestwood Elementary students who saw smoke, fire, seven people, and a dog in the water.
“It was definitely scary,” stated fellow student Kailey Sisson.
A yacht burning with a fiery pillar could have been crippling for some people to face, but it was not for the Sea Campers and their parents aboard a 114-passenger ferry.
As ferry Captain Doug Cook recalled, “Several nurses and several firemen on the boat all immediately jumped up offering their assistance.”
Students were sent to the boat’s top to keep an eye on the shipwrecked crew. Those with first aid and rescue experience grabbed life jackets and rope to throw. Little Rock Firefighter and parent Andrew Hall was at the front of the line.
As he put it, “From being on vacation and having a good Sea Camp to, hey, I may have to go to work here.”
While the ferry moved into position, Coast Guard quickly deployed, dropping life rafts, and rescuing every passenger aboard their vessel.
“That’s really cool. That would be a cool job to have. Maybe made me want to be in the Coast Guard,” Lawson said of what she saw.
After a short detour, their swim trip was given the all-clear and a memory they will hold onto for a long time.