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Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015

Men stranded in Gulf overnight recount events leading to rescue

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: June 19, 2013 at 10:55 AM

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With the daylight fading fast, Jenny Terry was becoming increasingly concerned about her boyfriend Daladier Faust and his friend Jacob Crooms.

The two men had just purchased a 1999 model Jet Ski from one of Crooms' relatives and set off for a test ride about two miles out from Pine Island shortly after 6:30 p.m. Sunday evening.

Terry was cooking up a Father's Day meal of fried chicken for the men upon the their return.

Before leaving, Faust, a father of two boys, said jokingly, "If we're not back in two hours call the Coast Guard."

That joke became reality when the two men failed to return home.

Those two hours turned into three, then four. Terry walked over to a neighbor's home.

She told the neighbor of her concern then walked down to the beach. A light sea fog was forming, and while a half moon peeked from the clouds, it was too dark to see anything.

The neighbor informed a friend, Capt. Harold "JR" Hutchinson of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, who quickly responded and advised him to call the sheriff's office.

At 10:35 p.m., deputies responded to 10771 Pine Island Drive in reference to the missing boaters.

Terry told deputies that Faust, and Crooms, both 22, left home around 6:30 p.m. to test the watercraft. She added that both men were wearing bathing suits and life jackets.

While neither Faust nor Crooms took a cellphone, they did have a whistle attached to the key ring.

As it turns out, the whistle would prove useless, as they were already two miles offshore when the watercraft malfunctioned.

Although the men tried to repair the craft, it was to no avail.

The sheriff's office requested assistance from both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Pine Island coastline was buzzing as helicopters and airboats searched for the men until the weather deteriorated at about 4 a.m. Monday.

The sheriff's office marine unit was used and FWC dispatched two vessels to assist with the search. Once the fog lifted, the Coast Guard dispatched its helicopter back to the area and, just after daylight, the two men were located a few miles from the mouth of the Weeki Wachee channel.

They were removed from the water and flown to the air station in Clearwater. The FWC towed the personal watercraft back to the Faust home, which sits at the water's edge, just two doors down from the county park.

"We tried to get it started with the can of ether aboard ," Faust told a group of reporters Monday afternoon following the rescue, but the engine would not turn over.

With only one bottle of Gatorade, the two men rationed the drink.

Utilizing survival skills is nothing new to the two men.

Faust was a corporal in the Marines, and Crooms, who's still on active duty, is a specialist in the U.S. Army.

Crooms, who's from Tampa, was home on leave for a relative's wedding and had some time to spend with his friend, who he's known for 10 years. The two attended Sickles High School together.

Crooms is scheduled to fly back to New York where he is stationed at Fort Drum.

During the overnight ordeal , the men said they stayed awake, keeping the watercraft from tipping.

"We just stayed calm," said Faust.

Except for a few lashes around their feet from jellyfish stings, the men said it was somewhat of a boring experience as they floated south with the tide. At one point, Faust said he tried to construct a paddle using a spear and his water shoe. It didn't work as well as he thought.

At daylight, the crew of the Coast Guard helicopter spotted them.

With some reflective material aboard and wearing life jackets, Faust said they waved their arms and were seen.

"The bird came down and sent the basket down," Faust said. A frogman followed to assist them into the module and they were flown to Clearwater.

After returning, the men were greeted by Terry and Crooms' dog, Saphira.

The men finally got to eat the fried chicken dinner Terry prepared, but at this time it was now their lunch.

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