Charter Captain Rescues Anglers Who Literally Crashed His Fishing Spot

by Vern Evans

Shortly after daylight on April Capt. Kyle Johnson and his crew of three anglers left Gulfport, Mississippi, for a two-hour run across the Gulf of Mexico to the famed fishing waters of Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands. Little did they know they were about to witness four fellow fishermen crash during an offshore landing in rough saltwater.

“It was about 8 a.m., and a 20 mile-per-hour wind was gusting and the waves were bumpy when we got to the Chandeleurs,” Johnson tells Outdoor Life. “We anchored and were getting out of my 28-foot Blue Wave boat to wade fish for trout and reds when we heard an airplane coming in.”

Johnson and his clients stopped what they were doing to watch the float plane descend for a landing.

“We knew right away as they made their approach to land about 400 yards from us that it wasn’t looking good,” says Johnson, who owns Coastal Water Outfitters charter fishing service. “The pontoons skipped high off a wave, and came down in the trough between two waves, then plowed into next wave. That buried the front of one pontoon, and it broke off and the plane went sideways into the water.”

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Johnson and his anglers immediately loaded into his boat and ran to the downed aircraft that was partially sinking near a shallow sandbar.

“My clients were going nuts, and everyone had input on what we should do,” says Capt. Johnson, a 37-year-old Army aviation veteran. “I told them to stay calm, just listen to me, and we’ll go help the guys in the airplane.”

Johnson’s biggest concern was trying to get to the plane quickly and safely to learn if anyone was hurt and render aid as quickly as possible.

“The waves were bumpy, and it was dangerous getting close to the plane on a sandbar, but we got there just as the guys were coming out of the airplane,” Johnson says. “They all had on waders [which was a drowning hazard].”

Johnson had his anglers spread out along one side of his boat while he maneuvered close to retrieve the plane passengers standing on the pontoon. His plan was to have two men roll into his boat at a time, avoiding a slip if they tried to jump or step into his boat.

“I got close to the plane and asked if anyone was hurt, and they said no, [everyone was] okay, which was a real relief.”

Waves were moving the plane and slapping Johnson’s boat. Keeping the plane and boat from crashing into each other was a tough job.

“My crew of anglers were great, everyone helped getting those guys off the plane. There’s no way I could have done that without their help.”

Once the four plane passengers — the pilot and three anglers from Chicago— were safely in the boat, Johnson headed for the Pelican, a floating lodge that caters to Chandeleurs fishermen.

“When they got off the boat and all said they were good, I told them that if they need anything I can help,” Johnson says. “Then I took my charter guys, and we went fishing …  We really just hammered fish, which was a great feeling after all we’d been through that day.”

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Johnson and his anglers fished through the afternoon, pulling their boat back into Gulfport about 6 p.m., exhausted from their adventure on the water.

“We couldn’t have gotten any luckier helping those guys in the plane,” he said. “There were no other boats in the area. The Chandeleurs are 25 miles offshore and way out of cell phone range. If we hadn’t been there to help, it could have been really bad. Even the Coast Guard would have taken at least an hour to fly out and help them. Their plane was sinking and that place is loaded with sharks  … We were all very fortunate.”

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