Boaters' rescue from bay brings `complete joy'

Boat sank, separating man from brother, 2 friends

August 07, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

Exhausted, waterlogged and stung by jellyfish, musician Orlando Phillips had thoughts of gratitude, but not happiness, when he was pulled from the choppy waters of the Chesapeake Bay after his boat went down near Deale.

"I had the feeling that I didn't want to live without my brother, and that my friends were gone," he said yesterday, recalling his desperation.

When Phillips' boat became entangled in fishing net and sank about 10:20 p.m. Sunday, he became separated from his brother, Gregory, and two friends. Orlando Phillips clung to a rope tied to a pole in the water.

"I couldn't see them. I said `Swim to my voice,' and they answered. But then I didn't hear them anymore. I thought they must have drowned," Orlando Phillips, 51, of Annapolis said, his voice hoarse from the shouting. "It never occurred to me they would drift out of my sound range."

The current had whisked away those three men, who were clinging to each other.

Nearly two hours after Orlando Phillips was pulled from the water, he said "it was complete joy" when he saw his brother and friends, who had been brought ashore by Coast Guard rescuers.

"We were all very happy, overjoyed," he said. "We hugged, cried, laughed."

Gregory Phillips, who turns 49 today and also is from Annapolis; and two friends, Pantelakis Panayi, 41, of Annapolis and Francois Koryak, 40, of Glen Burnie, were - like Orlando Phillips - exhausted but OK, Coast Guard officials said yesterday.

The men described a harrowing experience, and Anne Arundel County Fire Department Lt. Frank Fennell called them "very fortunate, considering they got separated."

Orlando Phillips, who plays Caribbean steel drums and saxophone, had taken out his 25-foot powerboat to go from his Annapolis home to his gig at Calypso Bay, a restaurant and bar at Herrington Harbor North near Deale.

His brother - with whom he had played in the 80s R&B band Starpoint, best remembered for the hit "Object of My Desire" - had joined him for some of the songs, ending about 8 p.m.

More than an hour later, a rain shower had ended, they had loaded the boat and, with two friends, set out for home, down Tracys Creek and into Herring Bay.

"It was very dark," Orlando Phillips recalled. "There was no visibility because there was cloud cover."

Away from the marina, he let Koryak take over. As he showed his friend their location on the global positioning system, Orlando Phillips said, a fishing net in the area snared the propeller "and we were caught like a big fish."

He cut the engine, but the men were unable to slash the net away with a knife or bail out the boat fast enough.

"At that time I told everyone to go put on life preservers," Orlando Phillips said.

They called 911 twice by cell phone - the first call was dropped - about 10:20 p.m. Orlando Phillips couldn't read the GPS location in the tumult in the pitch darkness.

The net sucked the boat into the water, and waves a couple of feet high sloshed in, quickly submerging the vessel, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Joshua J. Rihm.

Three men jumped off the boat, followed by Panayi, who later told Orlando Phillips that he hit his head on the canopy, was yanked down by waves and then popped up as the boat sank.

Orlando Phillips clutched his rope, most likely tied around a pole holding a pound net in the fishing haven. As he bobbed in the water, he chided himself for not grabbing flares.

Coast Guard, Maryland Natural Resources Police and Anne Arundel and Calvert counties rescuers circled the waters in five boats.

The sky illuminated by flares, rescuers spotted Orlando Phillips and debris first.

A firehouse boat from Deale picked him up about a mile and a half from land, Coast Guard officials said.

At a marina, he made a round of calls, first to one of his daughters, to say he was fine. He could not bring himself to call his mother, who had lost a son to illness several years ago, to say he thought another son was gone. He told rescuers that the current seemed to have swept his companions north.

As Orlando Phillips despaired, the others, adrift north of where he had been found, began to panic because the rescue boats had taken off.

"They left, and we were really scared they were not going to come back," Gregory Phillips said.

The other men had been clinging to one other, and Gregory Phillips said he felt his life vest was failing. "I think if I hadn't hooked up with those other two ... " he said, his voice trailing off.

Then the boats reappeared, and the men tried to cheer each other up with macabre humor.

"After they couldn't find us for a while and we kept seeing the boats going around the flares, we said, `Look at us, they're never going to come get us - one Turkish guy, a Greek and a black man," Gregory Phillips recounted.

He tried to calm his friends, saying that surely they would be found in the light of dawn and they should conserve energy and try not to take in too much saltwater.

But he was terrified: "I thought it was possible death, that we'd be drowning," he said.

A 41-foot Coast Guard boat pulled them out about 1 a.m. and reunited them with Orlando Phillips within a half-hour.

Fennell said the pound nets are on navigation charts but that it is possible to lose one's way.

Orlando Phillips said that although he has boated in the same area many times before and boated at night, he hadn't been in those waters at night.

"An unfamiliar area at night is like never having been there," he said.

About dinnertime yesterday, the Phillips brothers were returning to Herrington Harbor North, this time for a salvage operation. They didn't know whether the boat would be a total loss.

The boat, which Orlando Phillips bought three years ago from a Crownsville man, had a new motor and interior after it flooded in Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

"I loved that boat, I was going to name it the Rastamerican Dream, but I actually never did name it," he said. "Maybe when I get a bigger one I will name it that."

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