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St. Thomas Man Rescues Three Tourists

St. Thomas contractor Joe Limeburner and his helper, Adolpho Salata, rescued three tourists Wednesday but said he watched helplessly as huge waves swamped a boat loaded with what he believed were illegal immigrants.

Both incidents happened in an area called Red Rocks. The tourists were staying in a vacation villa in the area.

“It was like something out of the movies,” Limeburner, 35, said.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said a Coast Guard helicopter searched the area but found nothing.

Subsequently, Jaime Balzac, the Coast Guard duty officer in Puerto Rico, called to say the Coast Guard now thinks that what Limeburner saw was one of the Coast Guard rescue boats that responded to the tourist accident. (At this point, the identity of the boat remains unclear. Efforts to obtain further comment from DPNR officials and St. Thomas Rescue, which was on the scene, were unsuccessful.)

The saga began to unfold just about dusk when Limeburner went to pick up Salata from a job on the island’s north side near Magens Bay. He said he heard people screaming, so he and Salata went down the rocks, guided the teenage tourists to a spot along the shore that was accessible and helped them up the rocks to safety.

He said that that the boy and girl told him they were trying to get a better look at the high seas and to take pictures. The boy fell in the water and his sister went in after him in a rescue attempt.

“Waves were 10 to 12 feet,” Limeburner said, adding that the current rips in two directions at this point.

Meanwhile, the mother of the family slid some 50 feet down a cliff in her attempt to save her children.

“The mother saw the whole thing,” Limeburner said.

Limeburner said he rappelled down the cliff, threw the woman over his shoulder and headed back up the cliff.

As all this was happening, he saw a boat speed by some 200 to 300 feet offshore.

“It did a nose dive right into the wave and another wave came,” he said, adding that he believes the second wave threw the boat’s occupants into the water.

That boat was the one Limeburner believed was carrying illegal immigrants and the Coast Guard said was probably one of theirs.

According to Limeburner, the father of the tourist family called 911, but emergency responders from several agencies had been unable to find the teenagers.

“It was just random that I knew my way down there,” he said.

Limeburner said the mother, son, and daughter suffered cuts and bruises. Because the roads in the area are narrow and dark, it took some time for emergency vehicles to get to the scene, so he put the three in his car and with a police escort and transported them to Roy L. Schneider Regional Medical Center.

Nick Bailey, who lives in the area, came upon the scene as it wound down.

“He deserves all the credit,” Bailey said of Limeburner.

The dangerous high surf conditions, expected to continue along north coasts through Friday, caused the Coast Guard to send out an advisory Thursday.

“Surfers, swimmers and recreational boaters must pay close attention to these dangerous surf conditions,” Capt. Marc Stegman, Sector San Juan acting commander, said. “People should also stay off the rocks near the shoreline until surf conditions normalize.”

The Coast Guard included the following safety tips in its advisory:
• If you become caught in a rip current, do not panic. Stay calm, remain afloat, gather your bearings relative to the beach and swim parallel to the beach. You will eventually leave the grip of this narrow current and be able to safely swim to shore.
• When boating, check the weather before casting off and monitor the weather by radio continuously.
• Always wear a life jacket when boating, but at a minimum have a properly fitting life jacket for every person on board and ensure that they are quickly accessible. Often, when trouble happens, it happens fast.
• Know the boat you are on, including the location and operation of all safety gear, including a VHF-marine radio. This is especially true if renting or borrowing a boat that may not be familiar.
• Boaters should prepare a float plan that is shared with friends and family. That will give them an idea of where you are going and when you will return home. The float plan has all pertinent information about your boat, increasing your chances of being rescued. Download a float plan here.

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