Two St. Bernard men survive ordeal of boat sinking in windy and cold conditions

Daniel Scott and Joseph Mitchell with Coast Guard helicopter crew that rescued them.

A St. Bernard Parish man said he and his step-son are lucky to be alive after an ordeal in which their shrimping skiff sank Nov. 19 in windy weather in Lake Borgne and they swam to a marsh and were rescued after hours in cold conditions.

“It was bad. We almost died from drowning and hypothermia,’’ said Joseph Mitchell, 56. “We were lucky.’’

Mitchell said he and step-son Daniel Scott, 30, spent hours on the rigging of the 28-foot boat after a wave sank it in windy weather the morning of Nov. 19. Then they swam to a marsh area in Lake Borgne where they spent hours in cold weather before a Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued them.

Mitchell said as he and Scott finally had to jump into water from their boat they had several pieces of luck.

They had life preservers that helped them reach the marsh.

Once on the land, shivering in wet clothing in the winds, they found their box for putting shrimp they caught had somehow come off the boat and also landed in the marsh, Mitchell said.

They hadn’t caught any shrimp before the boat sank so the box contained only ice, some of which they threw out and some they kept in case they needed fresh water to drink.

Then they got into the box, which became their shelter and best chance of surviving the cold, Mitchell said.

“Thank God for it,’’ Mitchell said. Without it, he said, he thinks they may have died of exposure.

They stayed inside it for quite a while.

Unknown to them, the Coast Guard had received word about a sunken boat and had begun looking for them.   

A crabber had saw the swamped boat, reported it to a fire station on shore and firefighters reported it to Cpl. Shane Lulei of the Sheriff’s Office Marine Division. Lulei contacted the Coast Guard for help.

A Coast Guard helicopter was launched into the air and found them.

The helicopter crew hoisted the men aboard after dark and they were taken to the Air Station in Belle Chasse, where they were checked out by emergency medical services.

Mitchell spent most of Monday, Nov. 21, with others raising the sunken boat. He said they got it out but it is heavily damaged. But at least the men escaped death.