St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
tampabay.com

printer version

'Angels' accept great risks to protect boaters

Rescue workers leap, swim and dive to save injured powerboat racers.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- They call them angels.

When a powerboat flips at 90 mph and the driver and throttleman are trapped upside down gasping for air, these saviors descend and lead the way to safety.

"So you want to know what it's like?" Jim Poplin asked. "There is only one way, and that is to see for yourself."

Poplin, director of the STARS Powerboat Safety and Rescue Team, has been a fixture on the national race scene for almost two decades. His divers, all fire/rescue and emergency medical personnel, have flown to all APBA offshore races for five years.

"The rescues are the easy part," Poplin said. "It is the work that we do before the race ever begins that takes all the time."

First, Poplin and his crew go through the registrations and look at the medical history of every crew. Then they inspect each boat and check the safety equipment.

But nothing prepares you for a rollover like the dunker test.

"I don't care how long you've been a scuba diver," rescue diver Clay Ingle said as he strapped me in the seat of the dunker tank. "When we flip it over and the water pours in, hold your nose or else you are going to get sick."

The tank is designed to show racers how it feels to be trapped inside a canopied boat. The mandatory test must be completed once a year. The STARS team teaches the BRACE method: B means brace for impact; R means reach for the exit; A means grab the air supply; C means calm down; E means exit.

"Got it?" Ingle said. "And don't forget to hold your nose."

Over went the simulator. I braced for impact, then reached for the exit release as the water poured in. I looked for my air supply -- got it -- then tried to calm down as water filled my nose.

"How'd you do," Ingle asked as I surfaced a minute later.

"Fine," I said. "I remembered everything you said ... almost."

I spent the rest of the afternoon sneezing and, later that night at dinner, suffered an embarrassing episode of post-dunking nasal drip.

Now I knew how a rolled driver felt, minus the cuts and bruises, of course. But what about the rescue divers, the real stars of offshore powerboat racing?

Poplin's crew typically flies two helicopters, dubbed Angel One and Angel Two, each one carrying two divers. An additional rescue diver is assigned to each of three pace boats. Dozens of local rescue and medical personnel, both volunteer and professional, round out the STARS Team.

"So you want to know what it is like to jump out of a helicopter?" Poplin asked. "Then we'll drop you anywhere you want."

Once again, Ingle was generous enough to share his equipment and expertise. The Tennessean has been with Poplin's team since 1983.

"Make sure you hold your mask and regulator with one hand," Ingle said. "And the tank with the other."

Rescue divers jump with small, 13-cubic-inch tanks, about one sixth the size of a standard recreational scuba tank, which are mounted at the waist below the belly button.

"You sure this is safe?" I asked.

"That is why I said hold the tank," he said.

Fully rigged in Ingle's rescue gear, the helicopter swooped low over the water at 120 mph straight for The Pier. Heart pounding in my chest, I hummed Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, the helicopter music from my favorite movie, Apocalypse Now.

The chopper pilot flared off and hovered. Then came the order to go.

I grabbed the mask and scuba regulator with one hand and held the tank with the other, stepped off into thin air and dropped 25 feet to the water.

The impact surprised me. When I popped to the surface, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, just like the time I got nailed by a soccer ball in that danger zone between the stomach and the knees.

"I can't remember," Ingle said later. "But did I tell you to cross your legs when you jumped."

"Nope, you didn't tell me to cross my legs," I said. "I would have remembered that."

Back to Sports
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Contact the Times | Privacy Policy
Standard of Accuracy | Terms, Conditions & Copyright
 

From the Times sports desk

Gary Shelton
  • Legendary
  • Random thoughts

  • Hubert Mizell
  • FSU best; UM gets this vote

  • Bucs
  • Anthony on the rebound
  • NFL game day: week 12
  • Bucs can put their cold streak on ice
  • NFL briefs
  • Buccaneers best and worst: game 11
  • Bucs chat
  • 'I'm just one of the lucky ones'
  • Buccaneers by the numbers
  • Buccaneers quick hits
  • Analysis: Sean Salisbury (ESPN)
  • Bears not laughing vs. Bucs
  • Johnson faces tough return for Bills

  • College football
  • FSU unstoppable
  • USF seniors finish the way they began
  • FSU is turning the series tide
  • From Orangemen to Orange Bowl?
  • College football this week on TV
  • College football briefs
  • Fine game; you had to be there
  • Troutman is nearly enough
  • Nunnally, others catch NFL scouts' eyes
  • FAMU survives classic Classic
  • USF sideliners
  • Bulls can see the (natural) light
  • Gramatica goes out with a huge bang
  • UF-FSU sideliners
  • Four years added to annual battle
  • FSU quotebook
  • UF quotebook
  • Minnis making most of senior season
  • With its running attack stifled, Florida offense falls flat again

  • Lightning
  • Players want just 1 thing from refs
  • Sens lose one of their top scorers
  • Slap shots
  • Still no doubt in Dallas about The Goal

  • Devil Rays
  • 'Q' may be facing last days as a Ray

  • Sports Etc.
  • Clubs: $200,000 Game: still stinks
  • 'Angels' accept great risks to protect boaters
  • Highs and lows
  • The week in sports
  • Sports briefs
  • Paterno a champ; Bowden?
  • Bears schedule
  • College basketball this week on TV
  • Raising Cain races off with the F1 title
  • Super Cats move to front of race scene
  • A perfect season in many ways
  • Second chance pays off
  • Women's basketball roundup
  • Sixers rule East partly on merit
  • Tampa wins Division II region volleyball title
  • Captain's corner
  • Tennis briefs
  • In 10K, the late shall finish first
  • Avoid chilling prospects
  • Gaffney starts day with top-20 finish
  • Jesuit proves too much for Hurricanes
  • Young Jaguars finish fourth
  • Top five propel Jesuit to 2A title
  • Hurricane wins after near miss
  • Warhawks finally get second
  • Hard work lifts Buc freshman
  • Keswick star wins her third state title
  • Youth served at state meet


  • From the wire

    From the state sports wire
  • Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
  • FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
  • Brown anxious to face old team for first time
  • Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
  • Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
  • Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
  • No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
  • FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts