Outdoor Corner: A Close Call
It was just like any other day, Buddy Fuentes and Luby Russo planned a fishing trip and headed down the bayou to Theriot to meet at Falgout Canal Landing to fish Lake DeCade.
Both guys owned camps along Bayou Dularge for years, so fishing together was a pastime the pair enjoyed many times before. The pair recently sold their camps, so it takes a little more effort as Buddy travels from Ascension Parish and Luby from Lafayette, but they still do it.
It was two days after Christmas and is usually the time of year the speckled trout begin to gather in the lake. The first two stops didn’t produce any fish, which is not unusual for Lake DeCade. The best strategy is to drift fish until you find a school of trout that are hungry and feeding.
On the third stop things turned their way as they boated three nice keepers that hit the deck. That’s when things turned in a very unexpected way.
“I stepped off of the front deck onto an ice chest, the ice chest slipped, and I went headfirst into the cold water,” Fuentes said.
“I went deep enough that I didn’t know which way was up. I started kicking and using my arms to ‘swim.’ and I came to the surface about 30 to 50 feet from the boat. By an act of God I had on my life jacket. It brought me to the surface with my head out of the water, as it was designed to do.”
Buddy began hollering for Luby to help him, but Luby didn’t know how to work the new-fangled troll motor. I can identify with him; they are complicated if you’ve never used one. Buddy seemed to be getting farther away, so Luby cranked up the big engine and came close enough to throw Buddy a rope.
Within the first few minutes, Buddy lost the strength in his arms and legs. He was freezing and began to shake uncontrollably. This is the start of hypothermia. When the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, our bodies begin to shake to generate heat and raise the temperature.
At this point, Fuentes couldn’t pull himself in the boat, and Luby wasn’t strong enough to lift him in. He started screaming and waving his arms trying to get the attention of other boats in the area to no avail.
At this point in an event like this is where panic usually sets in. Panic is what causes most deaths in these types of situations. Although the situation was dire, Fuentes’ 30 years of service as a Baton Rouge City police officer helped in his decision making.
It didn’t seem like anyone saw or heard them, “I told him there was a flare gun under the front deck. Luby fired a round in the air and although they seemed to see us, three men in a boat chose to ignore a call of distress.”
Another flare was fired again but no one else noticed.
“I told him to call the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office or 911. By this time I’d had been in the water 25-30 minutes. I had lost all of my strength and Luby had to tie a rope around me to keep me from drifting off. He thought I was going to pass out, but my will to survive kicked in and I started practicing relaxing to save energy. Let me tell you it is hard to relax when your body is shaking uncontrollably.”
“Just about the same time the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office boat was arriving, a boat saw us and came to our aid. Came with two deputies. One of the boaters that arrived first jumped in the Sheriff’s boat, and the three of them pulled me in the Sheriff’s boat.”
A deputy took the wet life jacket and shirt off Buddy and then took his own shirt off and put it on him. He said, “I don’t know why I wore this heavy long sleeve shirt today, it’s a good thing I did.”
“I know why he wore it that day! Many of you do too,” said a grateful Fuentes. He was in the water about 45 minutes.
The deputies sped to the landing, where the group was met by Acadian Ambulance along with paramedics from the Bayou Dularge Fire Department. They cut the rest of the wet clothes off and wrapped Buddy in blankets for the ride to the Terrebonne General Hospital.
“The emergency room doctor, nurses, and aids were awesome. They were concerned about me having a pacemaker installed seven weeks ago and that I would have hypothermia,” exclaimed Fuentes. “They kept warm blankets on me and changed them often.”
They released him after six hours. “The first thing I did after getting home was to take a hot shower! I thank everyone for their prayers, the unknown deputies, the fishermen that came to our aid, the paramedics, and last but not least, Luby Russo,” Fuentes said.
“I always put on a life vest when running the big engine but take it off when I go to the deck to fish. This was very unusual for me to have a life vest on while fishing. It saved my life; I give God the praise and glory for keeping me alive once more.”
“Before yesterday, if you would have asked me if I could climb back in the boat if I fell out and my answer would have been, Heck yeah! I see things differently today. I will buy a portable boarding ladder that can be deployed easily from my boat or someone else’s that is in distress.”
Having experienced the same violent shaking at the onset of hypothermia, I know what he went through. I got wet from boat spray crossing Lake Verret, and by the time we got to the launch the shivering was unlike anything I ever experienced.
So, until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!
- East Ascension Sportsman’s League Meeting: 7 p.m. third Monday each month in the meeting room upstairs at Cabela’s. Supper will be served. For more information, email email@example.com
- Hunter Education Program: Hunter education classes have resumed. Classroom; online with a field shooting day and online for students 16 years or older. Website: https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/hunter-and-trapper-education
- Squirrel and Rabbit Season: through Feb. 28. Daily bag limit eight; possession 24.
- Deer/Archery: Through Jan. 31, State Deer Areas 1, 2 and 4. Through Feb. 15, State Deer Areas 5, 6 and 9. Through Jan. 15, State Deer areas 3, 7, 8 and 10.
- Duck Hunting: East Zone: Through Jan. 30, Feb. 5 (youth and veterans only). West Zone: through Jan. 30
- Red Stick Fly Fishers Program: 7 p.m. Monday, Room 204, Adult Education Building, Broadmoor Methodist, 10230 Mollylea, Baton Rouge. Website: rsff.org.
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