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Firefighter recalls Tomales Bay boat rescue

When Jeff Schach, a battalion chief with the Petaluma Fire Department, traveled to Tomales Bay with his family for the opening of crabbing season on a pleasant Sunday, he never thought he'd be helping other law enforcement agencies in a widely reported rescue of two children from a capsized boat.

The incident occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, when the Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter and marine units responded to an overturned boat in the turbulent surf at the mouth of Tomales Bay, just south of Bodega Bay. Personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service, and Marin County and Bodega Bay Fire Departments also were on scene.

According to Schach, who watched most of the event unfold from shore, the boat capsized far out in the bay. Schach and his family watched the county's helicopter unit rescue five passengers clinging to the hull. But once the five passengers were back onshore, Schach and the other bystanders learned there were still two children trapped below deck in the boat's small cabin. He watched as rescuers towed the boat to shore and then waded out into the water in his shorts to help.

"I tried to stay out of the way, but I ended up going out in the water, reassuring the kids, telling them to move to the back of the boat and cover their mouths with their shirts as the rescue workers cut into the boat," said Schach, who said the children appeared quiet as they awaited rescue. "I was just glad I could help in some way."

Schach said that while the initial helicopter rescue only took about 10 minutes from start to finish, the two children, a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, were trapped below for approximately an hour and a half, submerged in about a foot of ocean water.

After rescue workers cut through the boat and freed the children, Petaluma's ambulance unit took the children to see their parents, who were waiting anxiously at the nearby campground the group was staying at, and then onto Petaluma Valley Hospital to be treated for hypothermia.

"When the parents were airlifted to the campgrounds by the sheriff, they were distraught about their children," said Schach. "So our ambulance unit reunited the kids briefly with their parents on the way to the hospital."

None of the seven passengers on board the capsized boat were wearing life jackets. Fortunately, the three adults and four children only sustained minor injuries, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's department.

While officials have declined to identify the rescued passengers, a 46-year-old Elk Grove man was believed to have launched the group from Lawson's Landing earlier in the day.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)


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