By Richard Pearsall
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. -- Called to this harbor city to remove hazardous shoaling, a dredge owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wound up responding to an emergency of a different sort early on the morning of Martin Luther King Day.
Crew members of the Dredge McFarland rescued a boater who had reportedly been floating in 48 degree water for nearly three hours and was only minutes away from being carried out of the harbor and into the open ocean when the McFarland crew spotted him and plucked him out of the channel.
James Cecil Arthur, 52, is now in stable condition, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials, who said that given the water temperature and the time that Arthur had already spent in the water, he was in imminent danger of losing consciousness when the Army Corps dredge came to the rescue.
The McFarland, based in Philadelphia, was called to North Carolina to perform emergency dredging there and had just arrived Friday and begun dredging Saturday.
The incident began at 7:05 a.m. with the dredge, which operates around the clock, working in the channel off Fort Macon State Park.
Spotting an object in the water ahead, the crew ceased dredging and approached for a closer look. On seeing what appeared to be a vessel and a man floating next to it, the crew, under the direction of Capt. Thomas Evans, notified the Coast Guard and lowered a launch.
By 7:12, the launch was alongside Arthur and his vessel. The launch crew, under the direction of Chief Mate Shawn Bailey, was able to secure a line around Arthur, who was suffering from hypothermia and unable to assist himself, and lift him into the launch. The crew administered first aid and, at the direction of Capt. Evans, who was in contact with the Coast Guard, took the victim directly to the Coast Guard Station at Fort Macon.
Arthur told Coast Guard officials that he had been unable to sleep so decided to take a ride on his "wet bike," launching it about 4 a.m. at a spot on the North River about nine miles from where he was rescued. He apparently struck something shortly thereafter, which knocked the boat plug out and caused the vessel to begin to sink. The wet bike had damage to the port bow which could have come from striking an object such as a log or a buoy, officials said.
The McFarland is an ocean-going dredge, one of four that the Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates to maintain safe navigation at home and ensure that the country can respond to national security issues abroad.
Since the beginning of 2010, the McFarland has been in what is called "Ready Reserve" status, meaning that she is limited to 70 days per year of training operations in the Delaware River unless called upon to meet emergencies elsewhere. The dredge will be in Morehead City for at least another 10 days on this Ready Reserve mission.
Capt. Evans praised the actions of his crew on the morning of Jan. 16.
"I am very proud of their quick and professional response," Evans said. "Thankfully he (Arthur) was spotted, because with a strong outgoing tide, he was only 20 to 30 minutes from being in open ocean and survival and rescue may not have happened."
Second Mate James Davidson was standing watch on the bridge with Capt. Evans and spotted the damaged vessel in the early morning light.
Bosun Larry Watts and Dragtender Art Rubolino manned the launch with Bailey.