Chris Hunsucker of Cordova didn’t think he would be needing his three years of Navy rescue training when he and his friend Allen Hancock went onto the Pee Dee River on July 1, Hancock’s birthday.
The men had decided to take Hancock’s big pontoon boat out for a little cat fishing. “Just as we got out of the cove we saw something weird and I heard the faintest cry for help,” said Hunsucker. “I went to the front of the boat and already had my shirt off. I called out to see if there were any kids and I saw a sinking car seat.”
Hunsucker dove into the river and grabbed the car seat, which had a baby in it. He said the baby wasn’t wearing any kind of flotation device. Hunsucker said the river was 22 feet deep in that area.
“I got it on the boat and went back to get another kid,” said Hunsucker. “There was a third kid but I couldn’t pull him up. He was gurgling and begging me not to let him drown.”
Hunsucker tried to save him but couldn’t move him. That’s when he realized the child was tangled in wire that was attached to the overturned boat the family of five had on the river.
“I told him, ‘you’re going to hate me for this,’ and I had to push him under the water to get him untangled,” said Hunsucker.
Meanwhile on the pontoon boat, the mother and father of the children — who had pulled themselves to safety — were attending to the baby.
“The middle child was scared to death,” said Hunsucker. “The oldest boy kept dozing in and out; it’s hard to treat for shock on a boat when you only came to fish. Luckily, Allen had three flannel shirts. The kid’s dad said, ‘I think they’ll be OK’ and I said, ‘No, you are about to lose this one.’”
Hunsucker began treating the child for shock as Allen drove the boat to the Anson County boat landing by the pump station. Hunsucker saw campers on the bank and called out for them to call 911.
“We’ve checked our records,” said Anson County Sheriff Tommy Allen. “911 got a call at 4:27 p.m. on which we heard someone hollering for help. We didn’t get the name of the caller because his signal was cutting in and out. N.C. Wildlife was dispatched and Anson EMS was dispatched. The family was taken to Richmond Memorial Hospital, and they were from Richmond County.”
The family has not been identified. “It never ceases to amaze me the carelessness people have in the water,” said Allen. “This is the time of year for accidental drownings. The river is a dangerous place.”
Hancock did not return calls.
— Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.