Teen duck hunters rescued after boat capsizes

A West Point firefighter laces up his boots following a water rescue
Staff Writer

Two 17-year-old Starkville duck hunters escaped tragedy Tuesday morning when the kayak capsized, sending them into Catalpa Creek along the Clay-Lowndes County line.

The West Point Fire Department rescued the two just after 11 a.m., according to Fire Chief Ken Wilbourne.

"They are God-awful lucky," said firefighter Lantz Stewart, who, along with Sgt. Allen Flynt, used the department's heavy-duty inflatable rescue boat to reach the two.

"It could have been horrible, it could have been so much worse," Wilbourne echoed.

"All things considered, they were in pretty good shape. They were cold, but they'd survived pretty well. I don't know if we'd been able to say that if they'd fallen in deeper water with those waders on or if they'd been out there awhile longer," added Flynt as he shed muddy boots shortly after returning to the fire station.

The two teens apparently started their day before sunrise, heading into the Catalpa from a camp house on the Clay County side of the creek. They shared a one-person kayak with one of them sitting in the paddler's position with their shotguns and decoys and the other sitting on the shell paddling.

They had no life preservers.

They made it to an island, hunted and then apparently started to leave sometime after 9 a.m.

But when the paddler tried to get on the small craft's shell, it capsized, tumbling them into the water.

Fortunately, the water around the island was shallow and they were able to get ashore. Even more fortunate was they were able to keep a cell phone dry.

They used it to reach someone who called the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, who in turn called Clay County 911. Dispatchers sent Clay County Sheriff's deputies and the Fire Department to the area.

That call came at 10:12 a.m.

Deputies were able to locate the teens by honing in on their shotgun blasts. The Fire Department rescue team parked on a bridge on Old Tibbee Road over the creek and carried the boat to the creek bank.

The teens were about a half mile downstream.

"They had water in their waders, but they hadn't gotten really cold yet," Flynt said.

"If they'd fallen in in deeper water, they'd have never made it. The waders would have filled up and taken them to the bottom," Stewart said of the tragedy that could have been. "If the cell phone had gotten wet, we might not have known about them or been able to find them."

The two apparently didn't kill any ducks. And the rescuers left their kayak and decoys at the scene.

"We were worried about the boys. They can get those other things when the weather is a little better," Stewart stated as he folded the wet suit he wore during the rescue.

Wilbourne said the department's boat, purchased more than two years ago by the Firehouse Subs in Starkville through its Foundation, proved its worth once again.

"One of the best things about it is it can be launched from anywhere. You don't need a ramp. You can get close and then carry it to the water, which is what we did today," the chief explained.

"And it can go just about anywhere in any conditions. I can't thank Firehouse Subs enough," Wilbourne added.

The rescue also serves as a warning for other hunters.

"Make sure you have all your safety gear in place," Wilbourne stressed. "This is a prime example. Just because you've done it before doesn't mean something can't happen. If you are going in a boat, have life preservers...and make sure the boat is big enough for what you are doing," Wilbourne advised, shaking his head at the thought of the two teens in one kayak.

One of the teen's mothers showed up at the scene as the two boys were being brought ashore. Dispatchers had called her.

"She said she told them it wasn't a good idea," Wilbourne recalled.

The teens were checked by an ambulance crew, refused treatment and were released to the mother.

"I'm glad it turned out the way it did...and I  hope they learned something," the chief concluded.