Search and rescue boat back on the river

Published 12:04 am Saturday, September 15, 2012

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Search and Rescue volunteer Charles Feltus describes the new Suzuki 150 four-stroke engine that was purchased a month ago after the previous 30-year-old engine wore out.

NATCHEZ — Adams County’s volunteer marine rescue force is back on the river in their own boat for the first time in more than a year.

But to understand why they were ever gone, you have to look back to the flooding of 2011.

At 3 a.m. during some of the highest water in recorded history, the aging motor on Adams County Search and Rescue’s boat suddenly died.

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Search and Rescue had been called out by the Mississippi Department of Transportation to help crews look at a site on the Mississippi River bridge that had been struck by a barge. Just as the group got to the bridge, the boat’s motor died.

“It was a bad feeling,” said Search and Rescue Volunteer Charles Feltus, who was on the boat that morning.

“That water was moving really quickly, and we had river traffic coming toward us and we were drifting pretty hard. I was paddling as fast as I could, and we finally got the motor started again. That was the most scared I have ever been in that boat.”

That was in spring of 2011. Search and Rescue has not used its boat since then because the 30-year-old motor on the boat could not be trusted.

“It just wore out on us,” Search and Rescue Director Everard Baker said. “You reach a point with things you don’t want to spend any more money on it because it is costing so much.”

The problem was that Search and Rescue spends a lot of time on the water.

“Fifty percent of our calls are for river work, be it a barge hit the bridge or somebody drowned,” Baker said. ���Other than Concordia Parish, we are the only outfit from Port Gibson south that is all volunteer that does this.”

While their boat was out of commission, Search and Rescue borrowed a member’s pleasure craft, something Baker and Feltus said made both of them uncomfortable.

“It was too nice, it had carpet in it and you felt bad bringing in mud into it,” Feltus said. “Every time we would take it out I felt like I had to take it home and wash it.”

But recently, that’s changed.

Search and Rescue bought a new Suzuki 150 four-stroke engine that Baker said contains the latest technology and is “virtually maintenance free.”

Whereas the motor Search and Rescue replaced had to run on a mixture of gasoline and oil, Feltus said the new motor can run on regular fuel and can even take ethanol. It’s also strong enough to tow other boats if needed, he said.

To buy the new motor, Search and Rescue began fundraising in December 2011, collecting $3,300 from local individuals and small businesses. In May, the group raised another $3,300 by working the concession stand at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office’s rodeo, and in June the Adams County Board of Supervisors donated $2,000 toward the motor.

After collecting a few additional funds, in July the group bought the new motor from Eddie’s Marine, which installed the motor and helped the group update the steering controls on the boat to accommodate the new motor.

The group broke the new motor in recently by taking it to Lake Okhissa for a simulated drowning recovery, Feltus said, and they’re ready to provide the assistance Search and Rescue always has for the Phatwater Kayak Race and the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

“We’re ready to go now,” Feltus said.