Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Saturday morning I received a message from my son informing me that two friends of his were involved in a boat crash on the Savannah River Friday evening, resulting in 7 people being ejected into the water. The boat itself was a total loss. It was reported the dredge boat displayed no lights to identify it's location until after the collision occurred. The injured occupants of the crashed boat had to self-rescue and render aid to each other while also searching for Joe Fox and his brother Thomas. Regrettably, members of the dredge boat provided no assistance and search efforts were unsuccessful.
With maintenance underway on my own boat, it would be Sunday morning before I could assist with the search. As I began my day at 0430 Sunday morning, I wanted to arrive early enough to use the low tide and slower current to my advantage while having better exposure of areas that I thought might hold them. As much as I was hoping they would be found alive, I knew from experience as a former Columbia County Dive Team member, this scenario was unlikely.
I arrived at the landing to find search volunteers sleeping in their trucks while one young man was stretched between to lawn chairs by his boat after searching well into the night. At the time, it was still too dark to safely navigate around the obstacles in the Savannah River without additional lighting, so I took my time getting the boat prepared to launch, hoping one of the sleeping volunteers might wake up and tell me where they had been searching. However, the efforts of the previous night had left them exhausted as they continued to sleep even while I launched the boat and parked the truck. The journey to the crash site would take me several miles, so I began a slow cruise downriver until the rising sun began to provide enough glow to pick up some speed.
As I navigated down the river, I couldn't help but notice to the number of unlit barges, dredge boats and tugs scattered at various locations along the journey. Using electronic charts provided no benefit as these unmarked hazards are difficult to see at night when they are not maintained with diligent attention by a seasoned and passionate captain. At one location, a dredge was occupying two-thirds of the river's width with only a few floating barrels to identify the underwater hazards associated with the dredging operation.
During my approach to the accident location, I noticed dredges on both sides of the river. The larger of these two had white lights in the middle, but no lights to mark its parameters. The second dredge was sitting along the shoreline with no sign of being occupied. After passing the dredges, I began running sonar in a Jacob's Ladder search pattern while using live scan to identify objects in the water. Little did I know that I would start my search about 75 yards shy of where I needed to be to find one of the two brothers. As I worked my way east, I decided to cross over to the north side of the river where it meets up with Fields Cut. This is where I would find Joe floating with the current near a tower at the entrance of the cut. After contacting the Coast Guard, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the local dive team arrived to secure the area and retrieve the body. Not long after that, I heard a call come over the radio stating another body had been found, thus ending the search for Joe and Thomas.
The details of my findings are not important. However, I found the details of Joe's life to parallel much of my own. Joe loved the water and spent a good deal of time with his friends. He was also a Sergeant in Charlie Battery 1/118th Field Artillery Regiment, the same regiment I was assigned to as a Forward Observer when I first joined the Georgia Army National Guard. His friends tell me that Joe had a Love-Hate relationship with the National Guard. I guess many of us can understand that since it is a government organization. As I began to look through social media to learn more about this young man, I saw that he was well-liked and always seemed to be in the presence of close friends. I would later learn that his mother is a coworker of mine that I have never had the opportunity to meet. Joe and Thomas's sister also serves in the military and had to be called from a field exercise to learn the news about her brothers. The family's hope of finding the two brothers safe had been lost, but they could now receive closure.
Although Casting for a Cause is focused on helping our veterans find inner peace and relief from issues that may be impacting their lives, we are also about helping our military families and our community. Whenever possible, we will use our assets, our talents and our abilities to provide what is necessary to assist local, state and federal agencies during search and recovery efforts. Our prayers are with the family and friends of Joe and Thomas as they grieve the loss of these two young men. In memory of Joe, we will be adding his name to the dog tags currently presented on our boat to ensure he is recognized for his service. The bond of brotherhood extends much further than blood for those of us who have served. It reaches to the heart of our military family as we feel the loss associated with one of our own.