Five people were rescued from two boats that capsized after they collided beneath the Sebastian Inlet Bridge in Florida on Monday.
The Indian River Sheriff’s Office said no one was injured.
"It was a freak accident," Capt. Kevin Miller, of Sebastian TowBoatUS, told TC Palm.
One of his boats was attempting to aid a pontoon boat that broke down in the inlet.
"Something happened," Miller told the publication. "The boats broke free and hit the [pilings] of the bridge.”
Christian Arroyo, who was fishing from a pier beneath the bridge, which connects Indian River and Brevard counties, watched the aftermath unfold.
Arroyo saw the towboat attempt to rescue the pontoon boat, which was stalled just below them. He said a line the towboat threw out to the pontoon boat appeared to get caught in the current, sending the pontoon boat crashing into a piling of the pier and carrying the towboat out to sea.
“The current turned the [towboat] upside down, took it that way, and it just sank,” Arroyo said, pointing east. He said two people quickly were carried to the pier that juts out where the eastern end of the inlet meets the ocean.
“You could hear the ladies [yelling], ‘Help! Help! Help!’ ” Arroyo said.
Here is some raw footage of the scene from TC Palm.
The two people who were aboard the pontoon boat were left clinging to life jackets. A woman held onto the wooden piling as a man trapped in the boat struggled to keep his upper body above water.
Rescuers were able to pull the woman to safety, but the man’s leg was caught in the seat.
Lt. Dustin Lightsey, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer who patrols Brevard County, responded.
“We threw him a line to keep his head above water,” Lightsey said. “He was able to free himself, but he was so wore out, he started drifting headfirst, just above the surface, out [into the ocean] with no life jacket. That’s when I ran and jumped off.”
Lightsey’s personal flotation device inflated soon after he hit the water, and he was able to get himself and the man to one of the rescue boats.
“That was probably the most emotional [rescue] I’ve had,” Lightsey said. “If I hadn’t gone in, I don’t think that guy would have made it.”
Kevin Jones, Sebastian Inlet State Park manager, said the conditions weren’t atypical for an outgoing tide in the inlet, adding that people using the inlet should arm themselves with knowledge of the area.
“That’s why it’s a great idea to make sure that you take a boater safety course, even if you’re old enough not to have to have one,” Lightsey said.