By Sara Goodeyon
LAKE TEXOMA, TEXAS — Two brothers stand laughing and talking along the shore of the lake that nearly took their lives two months earlier but for the quick action of the man standing beside them.
Anthony and Terry Eddings owe their lives to Dr. Robert Golly. They were in a boat that flooded and sank on Lake Texoma, April 24, throwing them into the cold water. Golly heard their cries for help, and with the assistance of other volunteers, was able to pull the brothers to safety. They are at the lake for the presentation of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lifesaving Award to Dr. Golly.
“It’s nice to see them here today looking all suntanned and healthy,” said Golly of the Eddings brothers. A stark contrast to the exhausted, cold, and traumatized men he saw clinging to their sinking vessel back in April.
The brothers had set out on the lake that day for a morning of fishing in Terry’s 18-foot bass boat.
“We were just having so much fun that we didn’t see that there was water coming over the back of the boat,” said Terry Eddings.
There was no working bilge pump on the boat. It continued to fill with water until the stern sank and the bow shot up into the air then fell over on Terry, briefly trapping him under the boat. Both men held on to the bow, about four feet of which was protruding from the water. Anthony was able to get his life jacket on while in the water although he acknowledges it was very difficult. Terry did not have a life jacket.
“On our mind was, ‘am I gonna drown?’” said Terry. “That’s the question Anthony kept asking, and I said 'no, sombody’ll be here,' and then I’d turn around and I’d holler, 'help, help!' Gosh I didn’t think I’d ever see help.”
Eddings’ cries for help were heard by people near the boat dock of West Juniper Park. Golly, a USACE gate attendant, had just completed a pre-opening tour of the park when he heard the bystanders shouting that a boat was needed to rescue two people from a sinking water craft. That’s when Golly’s past experience as a U.S. Coast Guard Air and Sea Rescue Team member in Alaska kicked in. Golly could see that the men had the boat to cling to and assessed that he had time to go to his campsite and get his own boat. Golly had an onlooker back him in, and then he recruited two volunteers, Dickie Wallace and Mike Hogan, to get onboard and assist with the rescue.
The water temperature was 67 degrees that day, and the Eddings brothers had been in the water for 30 to 40 minutes; exhaustion and fear had set in, and they may have been suffering from slight hypothermia by the time the rescuers got to them.
“They were pretty worn out by the time we got there,” said Golly. “They wouldn’t have lasted too much longer. With them being brothers and the one having a life jacket and the other one didn’t have one, if the one who didn’t have the jacket had slipped under you know the other one would have tried to save him, and they both would have went down.”
Golly, Wallace and Hogan pulled the Eddings brothers onto the transom of Golly’s boat and got them to the dock. The brothers, totally exhausted, lay on the dock warming from the sun and were cared for by bystanders until emergency medical help arrived. Meanwhile, the rescuers went out and retrieved the sinking boat, towed it to shore and then went back out and got the Eddings’ gear, which was floating in the lake.
“There were a whole bunch of circumstances that were right to make it work,” said Golly. “I had a boat that was sturdy enough that I could get there, and the three of us could get them up over the side. A lot of boats would have tipped over. It was just fortunate the way it worked out.”
It’s a warm reunion when the Eddings brothers see Golly, May 21, shortly before the award presentation. The brothers offer their thanks and Golly, like most people who are called heroes, says he was just doing what anyone else would have done.
On hand to present the award is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District Commander Col. Michael Teague. He’s made the trip down to personally bestow the award because drowning prevention and boating safety is the focus of a major public education outreach program run by the district. And also because there aren’t very many good stories that come out of a situation like the one the Eddings found themselves in the day of the accident.
“This is so good to be able to recognize a good story when we talk about water safety,” said Teague. “To be able to recognize a positive instead of searching for a two-year-old or a four-year-old child lost in the water is just a feeling that is so great that I can’t even describe it.”
As for the Eddings brothers, it took some time for them to recover from the trauma of nearly drowning. Terry said he lost his appetite for a while.
“The lord had some reason to keep us around,” said Terry. “Maybe this is it, to be able to tell other people to be careful. Wear a life jacket and make sure all of the equipment on your boat works properly. And if you don’t have an automatic bilge pump, get one.”
“If I had to say one thing, I would say it is very hard to get a life jacket on when you are in the water,” said Anthony. “Make sure you put it on before you’re in the boat.”
They used to argue all of the time they said, but now they don’t fight at all. Well, except over one thing.
“The only thing we have had a disagreement about was that we caught one fish that day and Terry took it,” said Anthony. “He took it.”
“I haven’t eat it yet,” said Terry. “But I know it’s gonna be good!”
Dr. Robert Golly