PENSACOLA — A mother whose family nearly drowned when their boat sank in Pensacola Bay last month says she is “forever grateful” to the charter captain and his passengers who saved their lives.
Shelby Shatto Lassiter, 25, and her 30-year-old husband Russell Lassiter took their two children, 9-month-old Riley and 3-year-old Bowen, on a family outing May 18 on a boat they had purchased the day before. She said the water was calm when they set off from Bayou Grande and they eventually decided to head across the bay to Gulf Breeze.
But a few hours into their trip, things quickly went south.
“We thought everything was going to be all right,” Shelby Lassiter told the Daily News on Tuesday. “And then all of a sudden it started getting really rough, and I told my husband, ‘I think it’s time to go to shore. I don’t feel safe.’”
Just a few minutes later a large wave splashed across their bow and sank the entire boat in less than two minutes.
Shelby held on to Bowen and a gas tank for several minutes before the gas also tank sank, leaving them treading water. Russell was swimming and holding the baby girl. Both children were wearing lifejackets, according to Shelby and a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The family treaded water for almost 30 minutes in 3- to 4-foot waves before being spotted by a sailboat piloted by charter captain Michael Kirk, who owns Condor Sailing Adventures in Pensacola.
According to the FWC, Kirk circled his boat around the family several times before he was able to get close enough to rescue them. He threw a rope to Shelby and Bowen and pulled them to safety before getting Russell and Riley on board.
Kirk had four passengers on his boat. Shelby said they helped the family get on the boat and helped calm down Bowen.
“He was up sitting on one of the lady’s laps that helped get us out,” she said. “They made him laugh. Bowen did the best out of all four of us.”
But when baby Riley got on board, Shelby knew something was gravely wrong.
“When (Kirk) pulled our baby up, she was unresponsive. She was blue and not breathing,” Shelby said. “I thought she was going to die.”
Kirk and Russell performed CPR and got her breathing again, but her breathing was still shallow and erratic. A TowBoatUS boat arrived and the family got on board and was taken to shore, where EMS was waiting.
Shelby and the baby were rushed to the hospital and treated for saltwater ingestion. Shelby was released that day and Riley was released the next day.
Now back home in East Brewton, Alabama, Shelby said Riley is now doing “absolutely fine.”
“She’s completely back to her normal self,” she said.
As for Kirk and his passengers who saved their lives, Shelby said she was very thankful and already has met with Kirk and his wife, Whitney, in person to thank them.
Kirk told the Daily News he doesn’t think he’s a hero, but Shelby disagrees.
“We met up with them and got to talk about everything where we weren’t all panicking,” Shelby said. “We’re planning another meet-up with them and two of the other people that were on our ‘rescue team.’ We’re so thankful that they were close. We think that it was just meant to be that they were there.”